Emma Nutt

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Emma Nutt
Emma Nutt circa 1878-1900.jpg
Born July 1860
Perry, Maine
Died 1915 (aged 54–55)
Nationality American
Occupation Telephone Operator
Known for World's first female telephone operator
In 1900, Emma, her parents, her sister Stella, and Stella's husband, William G Evart, and 10-year-old son, Arthur C Evart, were living together in Chelsea, Massachusetts [1]

Emma Nutt (July 1860–1915)[2] became the world's first female telephone operator on 1 September 1878 when she started working for the Edwin Holmes Telephone Despatch Company[3] (or the Boston Telephone Dispatch Company[4]) in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Life and career[edit]

In January 1878 the Boston Telephone Dispatch Company had started hiring boys as telephone operators, starting with George Willard Croy.[5] Boys (reportedly including Emma's husband[2]) had been very successful as telegraphy operators, but their attitude (lack of patience) and behaviour (pranks and cursing) were unacceptable for live phone contact,[6] so the company began hiring women operators instead. Thus, on September 1, 1878 Emma was hired, starting a career that lasted between 33[7][8] and 37[9] years, ending with her retirement sometime between 1911[10] and 1915.[9] A few hours after Emma started working, her sister, Stella Nutt, became the world's second female telephone operator, also making the pair the first two sister telephone operators in history.[3][11] Unlike Emma, Stella only remained on the job for a few years.[10]

The customer response to her soothing, cultured voice and patience was overwhelmingly positive, so boys were soon replaced by women. In 1879 these included Bessie Snow Balance, Emma Landon, Carrie Boldt, and Minnie Schumann, the first female operators in Michigan.[4]

Emma was hired by Alexander Graham Bell, who is credited with inventing the first practical telephone; apparently she changed jobs from a local telegraph office. She was paid a salary of $10 per month for a 54-hour week.[5] Reportedly, she could remember every number in the telephone directory of the New England Telephone Company.[5]

To be an operator, a woman had to be unmarried[clarification needed] and between the ages of seventeen and twenty-six. She had to look prim and proper, and have arms long enough to reach the top of the tall telephone switchboard. Like many other American businesses at the turn of the century, telephone companies discriminated against people from certain ethnic groups and races. For instance, African-American and Jewish women were not allowed to become operators.[3]


This scene from "Bold Experiment – the Telephone Story", depicts the first women operators, Emma and Stella Nutt, working alongside boy operators at the Edwin Holmes Telephone Despatch Co. Boston, Massachusetts in 1878.[12]

'EMMA', A synthesized speech attendant system created by 'Preferred Voice Inc' and 'Philips Electronics NV'[13] is named in her honor.[5]

1 September is unofficially commemorated as Emma M. Nutt day.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "United States Census, 1900," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M9YT-VS3 : 6 March 2015), Emma Nutt in household of George W Nutt, Precinct 1 Chelsea city Ward 1, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States; citing sheet 9B, family 188, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,240,689.
  2. ^ a b Carlos Fernandes. "Emma Nutt" (in Portuguese). Dec.ufcg.edu.br. Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  3. ^ a b c Colleen Fitzpatrick (1927-04-07). "Forensic Genealogy, Who is Emma M. Nutt?". Forensicgenealogy.info. Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  4. ^ a b "AT&T, Media Info, SBC Michigan Recognizes 125 Years of Telephone Operators, Personal Service, Michigan, San Antonio, Texas, October 31, 2003". Att.com. 2003-10-31. Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  5. ^ a b c d Petersen, Julie K. Google Books. Books.google.co.uk. ISBN 978-0-8493-1173-4. Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  6. ^ "PBS American Experience, The Telephone". pbs.org. Retrieved 2013-08-24. 
  7. ^ "About this date - 1st September, 1878". Hicards. Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  8. ^ a b "Holiday insights, Emma Nutt day". Holidayinsights.com. Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  9. ^ a b "130 Years of the Telephone". AT&T. Archived from the original on 2013-05-29. Retrieved 2013-09-02. 
  10. ^ a b "New Hampshire Telephone, "It's for You!", by Carole Soul" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-08. Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  11. ^ Kate Schnedeker. "The Newsletter of the Montgomery County chapter of the National Organization for Women". Retrieved 2010-02-17. [permanent dead link]
  12. ^ "The Telecommunications History Group. Operators. Scene from "Bold Experiment – the Telephone Story"". Telcomhistory.org. Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  13. ^ "Find Articles, Business Wire, Feb 21, 2000 KMC Telecom Launches CLEC Industry's First Voice Activated Speech Recognition and `Follow Me' Calling Services". Findarticles.com. 2000-02-21. Retrieved 2010-02-17.