Wednesday, April 19, 2023

The 1912 Telephone Switchboard Operator

by Susan G Mathis

The Telephone Switchboard Operator had no easy task, but many young women found it to be a gratifying job. In smaller communities, one small multiplex switchboard might be found in a post office, a hotel, or even in one’s home, and only one person would operate it, connecting a few hundred subscribers. In larger cities, there might be rooms full of switchboards and operators busily placing calls to thousands. 

When a caller lifted the telephone receiver, a light lit up on the switchboard near the caller’s jack. The operator inserted the cord and answered the call. For a local call, the operator connected the call with a ringing cord. But for a long-distance call, she had to connect the call with a special trunk circuit, talk to another operator, and have her connect the call.


By 1910, nearly six million businesses and homes had Alexander Graham Bell’s telephones. But it was a shared convenience. There was always a half dozen businesses or homes on one line, and to make a call, you first had to get an open line. Then you had to turn the long crank of the handle on the side of the phone box and wait for the operator to answer. She’d ask who you wanted to call, and she’d connect them to you. If the line was busy, she might even chat with you while you waited.


The most popular phone was the candlestick telephone, also known as a stick phone, a desk stand, or an upright. Candlestick telephones had a mouth piece at the top of the stand, and a receiver that was held up to the users ear to hear the caller. The receiver rested on a fork at the side of the stand when not in use. When the receiver sat on the fork, it disconnected the telephone circuit.

In my latest novel, Mary’s Moment, Mary’s acumen as a telephone switchboard operator for the growing summer community of the Thousand Island Park made for a fun and interesting protagonist—and she saved lives in the process.

About Mary’s Moment:

Mathis’s attention to detail and rich history is classic Mathis, and no one does it better.—Margaret Brownley, N.Y. Times bestselling author

Summer 1912

Thousand Island Park’s switchboard operator ​Mary Flynn is christened the community heroine for her quick action that saves dozens of homes from a terrible fire. Less than a month later, when another disastrous fire rages through the Park, Mary loses her memory as she risks her life in a neighbor's burning cottage. Will she remember the truth of who she is or be deceived by a treacherous scoundrel?

Widowed fireman George Flannigan is enamored by the brave raven-haired lass and takes every opportunity to connect with Mary. But he has hidden griefs of his own that cause him great heartache. When George can’t stop the destructive Columbian Hotel fire from eradicating more than a hundred businesses and homes, he is distraught. Yet George’s greater concern is Mary. Will she remember their budding relationship or be forever lost to him?

About Susan:

Susan G Mathis is an international award-winning, multi-published author of stories set in the beautiful Thousand Islands in upstate NY. Susan has been published more than twenty-five times in full-length novels, novellas, and non-fiction books. She has ten in her fiction line including Mary’s Moment. Susan is also a published author of two premarital books, stories in a dozen compilations, and hundreds of published articles. Susan lives in Colorado Springs and enjoys traveling the world. Visit for more.


  1. Thank you for the post today. I am old enough to remember having operators and party lines, also I vaguely remember my grandmother's number being a word at the beginning. I think it was the name of her street. Of course you would transpose the letters for the number on the dial. I could be misremembering, but I believe it was so.