Years ago when I was in high school I was hired by the local Bell Telephone office to work as a telephone operator during the summers. My grandfather, a life-long employee of Ohio Bell, said to me, “So you’re going to be a hello girl.” I had no idea what he meant and didn’t know until I started researching World War 1 home-front information for the third book in my historical series.
Public Domain, Sgt. Abbott, U.S.
Army Signal Corps [Public domain]
In late 1917, General Pershing sent out an emergency appeal for experienced U.S.
telephone operators who were bilingual in French and English to apply for the positions. After strident language tests and skill testing the 700 applicants were narrowed down to 300. In March of 1918, Chief Operator, Grace Banker, led the first group of women in their journey overseas first to England and then across the channel to France where a bank of switchboards awaited them in Chaumont, France, and other locations around France.
Grace Banker: Public Domain, Wikipedia
Although the telephone operators were issued Army uniforms and were considered to be part of the Signal Corp, after the war ended and the operators applied for veteran’s status they were denied. The Army decided to consider them “contract workers.” Over the years the women petitioned U.S. presidents and their congressional representatives, asking to be seen as war veterans. In 1977, they were finally recognized, but many of the ‘hello girls’ had died by that time. Those that were still living were able to start receiving the benefits they should have received from the beginning.
In 2018, a documentary was released that tells the story of the Hello Girls. It was shown at the women's memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in March 2018, nearly 100 years after the first ship carrying the operators overseas left the U.S. You can view this film by going to this link: https://www.military.com/off-duty/2018/02/12/hello-girls-documentary-celebrates-wwi-female-telephone-operators.html
You can also read more about the Hello Girls of World War 1 through a non-fiction book called The Hello Girls by Elizabeth Cobbs. I also enjoyed the novel, Girls on the Line by Aimie K. Runyan.
Pamela has written most of her life, beginning with her first diary at age eight. Her novels include Surprised by Love in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and Second Chance Love. Safe Refuge and Shelter Bay, Books 1 & 2 in her Newport of the West series, are set in her hometown of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. She lives in northeastern Illinois with her two rescue cats.