Hello Girls

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Hello Girls operating switchboards in Chaumont, France during WWI

Hello Girls was the colloquial name for American female switchboard operators in World War I, formally known as the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit. During World War I, these switchboard operators were sworn into the U.S. Army Signal Corps.[1]

This corps were formed in 1917 from a call by General John J. Pershing to improve the worsening state of communications on the Western front. Applicants had to be bilingual in English and French to ensure that orders would be heard by anyone. Over 7,000 women applied, but only 450 women were accepted. Many of these women were former switchboard operators or employees at telecommunications companies.[1] They completed their Signal Corps training at Camp Franklin, now a part of Fort George G. Meade in Maryland.

Although the term "hello girls" may have been applied to the signalling corps, it did not originate there. Rather, the term was first coined for female telephone switchboard operators in the US,[2] and was the common term used for women who would greet callers with "hello" when they rang the switchboard instead of dialling another telephone number directly. Published references to "hello girls" predating World War I include the following sentence from Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court written in 1889: "The humblest hello-girl along ten thousand miles of wire could teach gentleness, patience, modesty, manners, to the highest duchess in Arthur's land".

Service[edit]

After training, the first operators, under the lead of Chief Operator Grace Banker, left for Europe in March 1918. Members of this unit were soon operating telephones in many exchanges of the American Expeditionary Forces in Paris, Chaumont, and seventy-five other French locations as well as British locations in London, Southampton, and Winchester.[3] The Chief Operator of the Second American Unit of Telephone Operators was Inez Crittenden of California.[4]

Chief Operator Grace Banker receiving the Distinguished Service Medal
US Army Signal Corps Female Telephone operators.jpg

Recognition[edit]

Despite the fact that they wore U.S. Army Uniforms and were subject to Army Regulations (Chief Operator Grace Banker received the Distinguished Service Medal),[5] they were not given honorable discharges but were considered "civilians" employed by the military, because Army Regulations specified the male gender. Not until 1978, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War I, did Congress approve Veteran Status/Honorable discharges for the remaining "Hello Girls." A Hello Girl uniform is on display at the U.S. Army Signal Museum. The uniform was worn by Louise Ruffe, a U.S. Signal Corps telephone operator.[6]

In 2018, the musical The Hello Girls had its world premiere in New York City.[7] The off Broadway cast recording was released in 2019.[8][9]

As of 2019, the "Hello Girls Congressional Gold Medal Act" was still pending.[10][11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Malmstrom Airforce Base". Archived from the original on July 22, 2011.
  2. ^ "The Agra Sentinel" (July 10, 1913). Volume 10, No. 31. p. 4.
  3. ^ Getting the Message Through: A Branch History of the U.S. Army Signal Corps by Rebecca Robbins Raines pg 169, available online at [1]
  4. ^ Pauline Hess, "Interesting Westerners", Sunset Monthly (June 1918): 47-48.
  5. ^ Sterling, Christopher H. (2008). Military Communications: From Ancient Times to the 21st Century. ABC-CLIO., p.55, ISBN 978-1-85109-732-6.
  6. ^ "Hello Girls". U.S. Army Signal Museum. Archived from the original on 2012-03-24. Retrieved 2010-01-23.
  7. ^ "The Hello Girls Is a New Musical About a Real Female Army Unit in World War I". TheaterMania. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  8. ^ Clement, Olivia (April 29, 2019). "The Hello Girls to Release Off-Broadway Cast Recording". Playbill.
  9. ^ "The Hello Girls (Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording)". Broadway Records.
  10. ^ "Hello Girls Congressional Gold Medal" (PDF). United States Senate. Retrieved 26 August 2018.
  11. ^ Tester, Jon (January 24, 2019). "All Info - S.206 - 116th Congress (2019-2020): Hello Girls Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2019". www.congress.gov.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cobbs, Elizabeth (2017). The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674971477.
  • Yockelson, Mitchell, Forty-Seven Days: How Pershing's Warriors Came Of Age to Defeat The Germany Army In World War I, New American Library