In my fourth book, Wheresoever They May Be, Susan Talbot is a switchboard operator in the Women’s Army Corps. World War II was not the first time women served in that role. During World War I, the “Hello Girls” filled that urgent need in France.
These American women were part of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. They were fluent in English and French. A total of 223 were trained by AT&T before sailing for Europe.
Men disdained the “women’s work” job, and they weren’t as good at it. They took as long as sixty second to connect calls. The women could accomplish the task in ten seconds.
According to author Elizabeth Cobbs, “every command to advance or retreat or hold fire was delivered by telephone and it took an operator to connect that call.”
The American women connected calls for French officers needing to communicate with American officers, and they stayed on the line to translate for the men. They served near the front, in danger of bombardment, and knew military secrets.
|General Pershing inspects the Hello Girls|
After the war, the women tried to join service organizations, which required their Army discharge papers. The army told them they were civilian contractors, and were ineligible for the bonuses paid to all members of the armed forces. Not until 1977 was legislation signed recognizing them as veterans. By then, most had passed on.