The Last Typing Wife

by Kieran Healy on July 29, 2007

Question: what is the latest — i.e., most recent — example you know of an academic’s first book where, in the acknowledgments, the author thanks his wife (or some other person’s wife, as in “the redoubtable Mrs Elizabeth Arbuthnot”) for typing and retyping the manuscript with great patience, forbearance, accuracy, and so on? The acknowledgments to academic books are a mini-institution with pretty clear rules that change only slowly over time and show a high degree of homogeneity, particularly for first books. Up until a certain point, the endlessly patient and also busily typing wife was a fixture in them. But no longer. How precisely, I wonder, can her extinction be dated?

My hypotheses are: (1) The typing wife disappeared earlier than the typing employee, but (1a), The typing employee has also now disappeared. (2) Things must have been in decline for a long time (typewriters are not exactly a new technology, and then women started going to graduate school on their own account), but the big drop-off comes some time in the 1980s, as cheap computers and word-processors arrive. I suspect specimens continued to appear into the 1990s, however. (3) The typing wife may have disappeared from acknowledgments faster than actual wives doing actual typing disappeared in practice. (4) I expect variance across fields due mostly for reasons of technological affinity. But I’m not sure how fine-grained this is.

As evidence for (2), as an undergraduate in 1993 not in possession of a computer, and not lucky enough to be attending a university with any decent computing facilities, I along with almost all others hand-wrote all my essays and regular coursework. But it was a requirement of both my honours theses that they be typed, so I had to marry pay someone to do that. The following year, though, I had saved up and bought a powerbook and typed my MA paper myself. So it seems reasonable to think that academic books published around this time might still have phantom typists working away – though maybe by then it was people who took a typewritten manuscript and retyped it on a wordprocessor. But I want specific examples. So the main question is, in whose set of acknowledgments is the most recent typing wife to be found?

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08.06.07 at 5:58 pm



Joel Turnipseed 07.29.07 at 3:01 am

Well, when was the big Wendell Berry wife-typing uproar? 1990 or so? That might be a good bench mark. Am curious to see–and imagine that someone, somewhere is even now doing someone else’s typing.


ogged 07.29.07 at 3:01 am

Here’s one from 1997. I found typing assistants from just a couple of years ago.


ogged 07.29.07 at 3:06 am


Kieran Healy 07.29.07 at 3:13 am

Hmm, the Dando book (from 2002) is by a Professor of International Studies — so not a first book. Still interesting to find it, though.


ogged 07.29.07 at 3:16 am

First book, right, sorry. Next post: when’s the last time a blogger did his own research?


Kieran Healy 07.29.07 at 3:17 am

My wife interweb does my research for me.

Actually I think it’s an instance of generalized reciprocity: I’m often doing other people’s research for them. Like yours, for instance…


kelly 07.29.07 at 3:18 am

The acknowledgments to academic books are a mini-institution with pretty clear rules that change only slowly over time and show a high degree of homogeneity, particularly for first books.

Really? I’d be curious to know more about this… (granted, I might be able to have Google do the work for me, but I’d rather hear it straight from an academic versed in such practice…)


Kieran Healy 07.29.07 at 3:21 am


Sure. There’s even, I believe, a mini-literature about it.


Kieran Healy 07.29.07 at 3:24 am


Neil 07.29.07 at 3:25 am

First books are often dissertations, so the publication date will often be significantly later than the date at which (most of) the book was finished. So a 2002 date doesn’t show the survival of the institution of the typing wife to that date.


Kieran Healy 07.29.07 at 3:26 am

So a 2002 date doesn’t show the survival of the institution of the typing wife to that date.

The typing first wife, maybe.


J— 07.29.07 at 3:28 am

Okay, not a first book nor a wife, but I wanted to share this one:

“Many thanks to my husband for typing the manuscript of this book…”

Emmy E. Werner, Through the Eyes of Innocents: Children Witness of World War II (2001).


lemuel pitkin 07.29.07 at 3:52 am

I have nothing to contribute to the query here but wanted to mention that in the acknowledgments to The World the Slaveholders Made, Eugene Genovese thanks his wife for typing up the manuscript during their honeymoon.

(He was joking … he claimed.)


tom s. 07.29.07 at 4:16 am

I also have nothing useful to contribute, but typing a 300 page book is surely not so bad. After all, Sonya Tolstoy hand-copied War and Peace seven times – probably a total of well over 20,000 handwritten pages. I have no idea if she got an acknowledgement.


jacob 07.29.07 at 4:48 am

Two anecdotes somewhat off topic: I know someone who in his first book thanks his close friend from graduate school three times (for doing three different things) but thanks his wife only twice. I have no idea what the wife (also an academic) thinks of this.

By far the best acknowledgments I have ever seen is in The politics of population: state formation, statistics, and the census of Canada, 1840-1875, by Bruce Curtis. Go read it on Google Books. It starts with “I am not going to make a list” and gets better from there.


Joel Turnipseed 07.29.07 at 5:13 am

Jacob: that’s some kind of Christopher Kimball-McSweeney’s hybrid you’ve stumbled upon–fantastic! Too bad you can’t see the whole thing in Google books… or is it: “Whew! You can’t see the whole thing in Google books!”


Walt 07.29.07 at 5:52 am

The best acknowledgements remain those for the Scheme shell reference manual.


kelly 07.29.07 at 6:46 am

Thanks, Kieran – much faster asking you than Google. I’ll see if either library access I have gives me access to that journal.


Craig 07.29.07 at 6:46 am

I was going to suggest Bruce’s “acknowledgments,” but I see Jacob beat me to it. (And, Joel, it’s not like Bruce is obscure (“stumbled upon”)…) The rest of his writing is equally lively.


david 07.29.07 at 7:17 am

Peter Vranas thanks his mother for typing “the bulk of the paper” in the first installment of his series of papers on imperative logic. See here:


chris y 07.29.07 at 10:42 am

My mother in law typed dissertations for a living and ran out of customers in the mid 1980s. I blame Alan Sugar entirely.

It would be interesting nerdy to compare the decline of the typing wife with the disappearance of the office typing pool. Which went first, and why?


joejoejoe 07.29.07 at 2:09 pm

Well, when was the big Wendell Berry wife-typing uproar?

Berry’s 1990 ‘What are People For?’ has an entire chapter about the typing wife.

An excerpt: “Without exception, the feminist letters accuse me of exploiting my wife, and they do not scruple to allow the most insulting implications of their indictment to fall upon my wife. They fail entirely to see that my essay does not give any support to their accusation—or if they see it, they do not care. My essay, in fact, does not characterize my wife beyond saying that she types my manuscripts and tells me what she thinks about them. It does not say what her motives are, how much work she does, or whether or how she is paid. Aside from saying that she is my wife and that I value the help she gives me with my work, it says nothing about our marriage. It says nothing about our economy.

There is no way, then, to escape the conclusion that my wife and I are subjected in these letters to a condemnation by category. My offense is that I am a man who receives some help from his wife; my wife’s offense is that she is a woman who does some work for her husband—which work, according to her critics and mine, makes her a drudge, exploited by a conventional subservience. And my detractors have, as I say, no evidence to support any of this. Their accusation rests on a syllogism of the flimsiest sort: my wife helps me in my work, some wives who have helped their husbands in their work have been exploited, therefore my wife is exploited.

This, of course, outrages justice to about the same extent that it insults intelligence. Any respectable system of justice exists in part as a protection against such accusations. In a just society nobody is expected to plead guilty to a general indictment, because in a just society nobody can be convicted on a general indictment. What is required for a just conviction is a particular accusation that can be proved. My accusers have made no such accusation against me. […]

I should say too that I understand how fortunate I have been in being able to do an appreciable part of my work at home. I know that in many marriages both husband and wife are now finding it necessary to work away from home. This issue, of course, is troubled by the question of what is meant by “necessary,” but it is true that a family living that not so long ago was ordinarily supplied by one job now routinely requires two or more. My interest is not to quarrel with individuals, men or women, who work away from home, but rather to ask why we should consider this general working away from home to be a desirable state of things, either for people or for marriage, for our society or for our country.

If I had written in my essay that my wife worked as a typist and editor for a publisher, doing the same work that she does for me, no feminists, I daresay, would have written to Harper’s to attack me for exploiting her—even though, for all they knew, I might have forced her to do such work in order to keep me in gambling money. It would have been assumed as a matter of course that if she had a job away from home she was a “liberated woman,” possessed of a dignity that no home could confer upon her.”

Read the whole thing (see link in signature).

I highly recommend Berry’s book “What Are People For?”.


Karl Steel 07.29.07 at 2:16 pm

The best acknowledgements remain those for the Scheme shell reference manual.

Oh, those are good. There’s also the page in this, not online…but here’s a sample: thanks to “two bitter narcissists in a certain headless department of English who have no loyalty other than to their own self-causes.”


z 07.29.07 at 5:30 pm

Maybe male authors don’t want to admit their wives type for them, for fear of seeming as pretentious and insensitive as Wendell Berry.


thag 07.29.07 at 8:06 pm

re 9:

What, they recommend that non-native speakers receive assistance in writing acknowledgements?

Cause that’s really what’s holding back their brilliant careers?

I’m pretty sure that no academic career has ever been impeded by an insufficiently sophisticated acknowledgement.

(I mean–you can probably shoot yourself in the foot with something catty. But a simple thanks will always suffice.)


Kieran Healy 07.29.07 at 8:33 pm

That was the first one I came across after a quick search. There’s other stuff, more light-hearted, on the sheer sameness of acknowledgments, etc.


Jon C 07.29.07 at 9:51 pm

Sure. There’s even, I believe, a mini-literature about it.

Research into the methodology of acknowledgments? The mind boggles and wants to know what method they themselves used to give acknowledgments; but yet fears the infinite recursion which might ensue.


Kenny Easwaran 07.29.07 at 10:03 pm

I believe Bill Craig’s very recent (maybe still forthcoming?) book on cylindric algebras thanks someone who shares his last name but isn’t a relative for her “sensitive typing”. But this is hardly a first book, as Craig’s Interpolation Theorem was proven in the ’50s (or maybe even ’40s?)


Yotro 07.30.07 at 4:43 am

And what about the wife who indexed? After all, a good index demanded skill, intelligence and mastery of the material. A meeting of minds. Here was a wife well placed to defend — or rubbish — her husband’s work.


Tom Hurka 07.30.07 at 5:40 pm

Acknowledging the typing wife at the start of a book is one thing; what about putting footnote acknowledgements to particular fellow-scholars (e.g. “I am indebted in this paragraph to conversations with XY,” or “I owe this point to Z”) in the body of a book or article? When did that start? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t much done before, what, the 1980s? But it’s everywhere, at least in my discipline, now.


Simon Rippon 07.30.07 at 5:55 pm

I am confident that no examples of a typing wife more recent than 2007 will be found this year.


grotius 07.31.07 at 10:26 am

The typing wife is a nice relic, and searching for it sounds fun–but here’s another tact: identify the scholars thanked in the acknowledgments, and then do a database search of the book’s reviews. It’s amazing (but not surprising) how many glowing reviews come from academics mentioned in that oh-so-pompous section of the academic monograph.


lkutner 07.31.07 at 7:36 pm

Another question is when did it start? Originally, a typewriter was the person who operated a “typing machine” or a “typographer.” The device was considered too complex for women, so the original typewriters were exclusively men.


Joshua W. Burton 08.01.07 at 4:49 am

TeX and troff were already ascendant (for humanities papers and nice CVs, not just tech writing) in some circles when I arrived at college in 1980, but you could still get whiteout ribbon in Harvard Square at 2 am four years later. I never saw a portable typewriter outside its case after leaving for grad school in 1984. Departmental secretaries with big Selectrics held out into the early 1990s, I think.


Sam Dodsworth 08.01.07 at 1:21 pm


Quite early, I think. There’s a Sherlock Holmes story (“A Case of Identity”) with a woman client who makes pocket-money working from home as a typist. According to Wikipedia, that was published in 1891 and set in 1888.

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