fb-pixelNeedham author writes about secretarial school owner - The Boston Globe Skip to main content
Up close

Needham author writes about secretarial school owner

Rose Doherty, left, has written a book on the life and career of Katharine Gibbs, and some of her storied fellow “Katie Gibbs” alumnae.kevin doherty/handout

Although they are from different generations, Rose Doherty of Needham has the late Katharine Gibbs to thank for several aspects of her life: 11 years of teaching and administrative experience at the school named for founder Gibbs; a staunch work ethic that was reinforced there; a wardrobe of professional attire that is literally suitable for any occasion; and her new career as an author.

Doherty, a trustee of the Needham Free Public Library and member of the Needham Historical Commission, recently published “Katharine Gibbs: Beyond White Gloves.” The book describes the enduring influence of the high school-educated widow whose secretarial school-turned-college set the standard for excellence from 1911 until the last location closed a century later.


Doherty’s first exposure to the Katharine Gibbs School occurred when she and a fellow sixth-grade classmate were tasked with handing out matches and bridge cards at a 1955 alumnae event in her hometown, Providence.

“I couldn’t believe all the attractive, well- dressed women,” she recalled. “My mother always looked nice, but not at this level of sophistication.”

Rather than enrolling there after high school, however, Doherty followed her passion for teaching. She taught English at Boston College and the Boston Conservatory before joining the Katharine Gibbs School in Boston in 1977 — initially as a faculty member, then an academic dean, trustee, and chairwoman of the board of trustees.

Doherty said her years in parochial school prepared her for the strict codes of behavior and dress at Gibbs, such as being punctual, sitting in alphabetical order, using courtesy titles, and dressing professionally to convey the position to which one aspires, rather than the job one currently holds.

Doherty went on to serve as an assistant dean at Northeastern University before retiring in 2004, but she soon returned to the Katharine Gibbs School to fill an interim dean position. She pledged to write her book, nearly a decadelong labor of love, after realizing how few students or faculty members knew the story behind the woman whose portrait hung in the library.


Doherty said she is often asked by “Katie Gibbs” alums whether the school could operate today.

“Sadly, something important has been lost,” she said. “The kind of discipline required to produce quality work on demand isn’t acceptable to most people today.”

For more information and a list of book events, visit www.roseadoherty.com.

Cindy Cantrell can be reached at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.