Coined as the ‘Hello Girls’ as early as the late 19th century, female switchboard operators were widely known as having gentle and polite voices regardless of demanding and impatient callers. During WWI, General Pershing enlisted French-speaking ‘Hello Girls’ to improve wartime communication, relaying messages about troop movements and supplies. The ‘Hello Girls’ not only proved to be an integral part in telecommunications at home, but they also played a vital role in military operations. Read more about it!
The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.
The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.
|1901-1918||Newspaper articles attempt to clear up misconceptions about ‘Hello Girls’ in order for patrons to reflect on having more patience and reasonable dealings.|
|April 1903||‘Hello Girl’ Myrtle Dedrick marries millionaire Charles Featherstone after long distance exchanges.|
|August 28, 1907||Newspapers praise the ‘Hello Girls’ during their strikes across the country, supporting their demands for fair treatment and higher wages.|
|October 11, 1909||Chief Operator Ida Potter correctly predicts an earthquake in Columbia, MO as operators answer bogus calls.|
|May 20, 1910||Labor Commissioner Neill writes a lengthy report detailing the physical and emotional requirements of ‘Hello Girls,’ as well as the conditions in which they work.|
|July 12, 1916||“Secrecy of the Telephone Service” report includes how operators have had to ‘mind the baby” over the telephone.|
|November 1, 1917||5,000 ‘Hello Girls’ strike in Tacoma, WA, demanding a wage increase, collective bargaining, and improved working conditions.|
|March 9, 1918||Ethel Elkins is the first American accepted for overseas war phone service duty in WWI with the rank of Army nurse.|
|September 29, 1918||The NY Sun publishes a full page feature covering the wartime ‘Hello Girls.’|
|May 4, 1922||General Pershing states, “Every man over there wanted to feel some woman was looking after him,” in describing the value of the ‘Hello Girls’ four years after the war.|