Fourth Unit of Telephone Operators Arrive In France - 1918

Fourteen of the girls in the Fourth Unit of Telephone Operators for France were trained by the New York Telephone Company.

Fourteen of the girls in the Fourth Unit of Telephone Operators for France were trained by the New York Telephone Company. They are, left to right: Top Row — Misses Vivienne Hamel, New York; Louise Maclin, New York; Mary C. O'Rourke, New York; Louise L. Armand, New York; Madeline Batta, New York; Camille Rieder, New York; Berthe Arlaud, Brooklyn, N. Y. Front Row — Misses Lucienne Bigou, New York; Celestine Leguia, New York; Marguerite Chenot, Manhasset, L. I.; Beatrice Francfort, New York; Mrs. Eileen Munro, Washington, D. C. ; Misses Edmee Le Roux, New York; Ida B. Lanz, Brooklyn. The Telephone Review, July 1918. GGA Image ID # 192810615d

Pioneers in Service Telephone Operators Taking Their Place in the Service of Uncle Sam Overseas

Hurrah for the fourth unit of telephone operators, already taking its place in France be side the other three, and making things hum "over there!"

The cable "Arrived safely," is brief, to be sure, but what it really means to say is, "Sixty more French-speaking American girls have arrived in France to operate war switchboards for Uncle Sam and our boys." They have volunteered to do this as their contribution toward winning the war, because they feel that it is the thing that they can do best. As one of them put it, if they didn't go they would feel like slackers, and would be slackers, just as much as any man who shirked his duty. More are ready to go, but they are not needed at present, and are continuing their training over here.

With minds filled with the end to be attained, these girls and those who preceded them, together with those who are to follow, have traveled from the four corners of the United States. As can easily be imagined, they have all had some of the edges rubbed off them by contact with other groups.

Since every little town and every big citv in the United States produces a different type of individual, these girls, when they meet, cannot help being surprised at the ways and characteristics of one another.

As the time goes on, and they work together, drilling and marching, exer cising and getting physically fit for their work in France, under the direction of Miss Candace Hewitt, an of ficer of the Women's Fmergency Service Corps. As they learn to come to order at the command "Attention !" and to act as a unit, they become more and more welded together, until we hear comments like that in Miss Grace Banker's letter, printed in the June Review, to the effect that group lines are fast disappearing. The uniforms, they say, are also partly responsible for this, reminding the girls as they do of their common purpose.

Pioneers in Blue

These operators hold a unique position in the army, being pioneers in their line. Many things in connection with their status in the army are not well defined as yet, but will evolve with time. Need for such a unit was felt the call went out, and the need was met. Minor details were left to time to be worked out.

For instance, after an elapse of several months, some changes have been made in the uniforms.

A summer outfit, consisting of a blue alpaca suit of the same cut as the heavy one, with a straw sailor (very becoming, by the way) and a little aviation cap, has been enthusiastically welcomed by the girls, who have felt the disadvantage of possessing one suit only, and that a very warm one for a hot day. Dark blue silk shirt waists to supplement the white ones filled a much-felt need, and simplified the laundry question considerably, while rubber cloaks, arctics, and other accessories also helped to make up a complete, comfortable, and good-looking wardrobe.

That the girls already there have be gun to have experiences of all kinds, and are delighted with things so far, can readily be seen from their letters to friends :

A Chicago Operator in New York

We're in the barracks holding on tight because there's a general "hunch" in the air that we'll be moving on in short order. The barracks were full. We all feel that to night will be the fatal night. I assure you that packing is the order of the evening and excitement reigns supreme. We're happy, and in one way, we feel sorry.

Our nights and days have been full, full. I haven't had more than five hours' sleep since we left. It's been early to rise and late to bed, — shopping and lectures, a couple of teas given for us, and, of course, my Uncle and Aunt have wanted to take me a few places. They gave me a dinner at the Plaza, a luncheon at Delmonico's, the theatre once, and helped me to shop to boot. Uncle is getting me one of those awful life-saving suits that blow up and keep one afloat for hours. It weighs tons, though, and where I'll carry it I don't know.

It's certainly hard to try to write with this wild babble going on up here, but I'm trying to be coherent. I haven't told you yet how perfectly fine all the people have been to your girls in Great Big Old New York. They have stopped us on the streets to tell us how proud they were to shake hands with us. Can you imagine it? When we were out together the other day, they clapped us. I must confess it made us feel sheepish.

Liberty Loan Fans

This last unit was lucky enough to be in New York when the Liberty Loan activity and excitement were at their height. One of the girls in the Chicago unit tells of how she and some of the other girls participated in the campaign, the chief operator speaking from the end of an illuminated truck, and of how they all had supper at the Pekin afterwards.

At Columbus Circle we listened to a little boy deliver a masterful oration for the Liberty Loan. We passed on to another lecture from the curb, and were asked to buy bonds. The man, whom later we came to know as Mr. ________, talked so well, that we all invested. Finding out who we were, he asked us to mount the stump then and there, to tell of the manly pride arising in one's bosom after purchasing a bond. We declined, but arranged for the next night. The next morning we were busy getting up interest among the girls.

At 7:15 P. M. two flag-draped automo biles drew up to the hotel, and nine of us were escorted in style to the Liberty Loan headquarters. Miss ________, who will be Chief Operator of the next group was elected captain, and she marched us in true soldierly fashion to the waiting truck, brightly illumined and patriotically draped. We paraded up Broadway behind the New York 12th Infantry, and stopped at Times Square, where we sold $6,000 worth of bonds. It would have thrilled you to see us girls persuading the mob that was listening to the orations and demonstrations and songs which were delivered from the truck. I was part of the time down among the throng, and part of the time leaning over the side of the truck, urging people to come up and buy.

Left Section of the Fourth Unit of Telephone Operators for General Pershing's Army, Trained by the Bell System and Ready for Overseas Service.

Left Section of the Fourth Unit of Telephone Operators for General Pershing's Army, Trained by the Bell System and Ready for Overseas Service. Photographed on Roof of 195 Broadway, New York, June 13, 1918. They are (left to right): Top Row — Miss Kathleen M. Hyatt, Miss Albertine M. Belhumeur, Miss Evelyn C. La Riviere, Miss Alma H. Hawkins, Miss Mary Marshall, Miss Eugene J. Couture, Miss Emma Riendeau, Miss Lillie H. Noble, Miss Louise Maclin, Miss Vivienne Hamel, Miss Louise L. Armand, Middle Row — Miss Edmee LeRoux, Miss Melanie Van Gastel, Miss Aurelie C. Lucier, Miss Stella M. Viau, Miss Berthe Arlaud, Miss Helen E. Hill, Miss E. Tilleard, Miss Juliette Courtail, Miss Eleanor Hoppock, Mrs. Eileen Munro, Miss Beatrice Francfort, Front Row —Miss Lucienne Bigou, Miss Camille Rieder, Miss Agnes G. Burge, Miss Ruth Couturier, Miss Louise Chaix, Miss Mathilde Ferrie, Miss Leonie Peyron, Miss Georgette Boehrer, Miss Mary Story. The Telephone Review, July 1918. GGA Image ID # 19283d8c2d

Right Section of the Fourth Unit of Telephone Operators for General Pershing's Army, Trained by the Bell System and Ready for Overseas Service.

Right Section of the Fourth Unit of Telephone Operators for General Pershing's Army, Trained by the Bell System and Ready for Overseas Service. Photographed on Roof of 195 Broadway, New York, June 13, 1918. They are (left to right): Top Row -- Miss Marguerite Martin, Miss Madeline Batta, Miss Mary C. O'Rourke, Miss Eglantine Moussu, Miss Marjorie L. McKillop, Miss Doris Summers, Miss Charlotte Anderson, Miss Germaine Lamontagne, Mrs, Eleanor A. Brown, Miss Marthe Carroul, Miss Lalla Munoz, Miss Marie Lange. Middle Row -- Miss Geneva M. Marsh, Miss Beatrice P. Bourneuf, Miss Mary E. Vannier, Miss Jane Lang, Mrs. Pauline McDonnell, Miss Jeanne Legallet, Miss Ellen M. Turner, Miss Louise Beraud, Miss Irma Armanet, Miss Alice Raymond, Miss Ruth Clarke. Front Row -- Miss Jennie R. Young, Miss Ida B. Lanz, Miss Alice J. Borreson, Miss Marie A. Lassalle, Miss Louise Ruffe, Miss Emelia Lumpert, Miss Ida Trahan, Miss Frances W. Laney, Miss Marguerite Chenot, Miss Celestine Leguia. The Telephone Review, July 1918. GGA Image ID # 19285f95ad

Letters from Miss Louise Le Breton. Signal Corps Telephone Operators' Unit, A. E. F., to Her "folks" in Berkeley, California

Somewhere in England, Sometime in March, 1918.

Dearest Little Andree:

This is Toyland — remember Toyland at the Exposition? That's what these little English houses remind me of. They have thousands of quaint chimneys over the roofs of all houses. These are packed to gether, centuries old, all in stone, solid like everything. And the little engines and miniature wagons and wheels on the train ! Oh ! I wish you were here. A soldier at the station was leaning against an empty wagon, and an officer rushed to him and breathlessly told him not to lean on it, be cause he might turn it over! How we laughed !

When we got off the boat, two British officers were pacing up and down the deck — real military steps —and sending their canes away up in the air. Suddenly one of them stopped short, as if dazed by some thing unusual, and pointing at us with his cane, exclaimed : "I say, old chap, have they got girl soldiers on this boat?" You'd be astonished how often the Britishers use this "I say old chap." They can't go with out it! (Don't forget the broad a in can't.)

English Slang

They told me yesterday that I had to get up at the "top of the morning." Search me if I knew what they meant! Why they didn't say seven o'clock, I don't know! We got permission to go to the show last night, and we asked one of the maids how to get there. She told us we had to take the tram (car) at the bottom of the street. Well, we didn't know what the bottom of the street was but we figured out itwas the end. We marched quite a few blocks, and finally got to the end —but no sign of trams anywhere. We walked back and after many inquiries found out that the bottom of the street meant the corner of the thing! Imagine!

Some of us went out yesterday afternoon to buy some little things and a bunch of kids at the "bottom" of the street exclaimed: "They're 'Mericans —look at their 'ats !" We never imagined before that our hats were so typically American.

But you should have seen those rosy cheeked little kids ! They rushed to us and asked us for some American pennies and nickels, and Raymonde and I gave them all we had. We're ruined financially now!

Arrival in Town

We're in the best hotel in town— the old furniture and drole arrangement of things do remind me of the old French houses and it's fun to look over and touch everything. You should see the miniature elevators ! By the way, they call them "lifts" here. When we arrived here and after I had registered, they told me to take the lift to the fourth floor. My eyes got as big as saucers. "Take the what?" I couldn't imagine what lift meant ! 1 was so horribly sleepy. We got here at one o'clock in the morning. Of course we had fallen asleep in the wagons, one on top of the other (the wagon was big enough for five and we were seven). We had to get ready and fall in line inside of five minutes 1 We were all so dirty, you wouldn't have recognized your sisters : black streaks on our faces, our hair falling down, our clothes all mussed up ! We looked like shipwrecks.

But during the day we enjoyed our ride. They never tell us ahead where we are going, and we were scrutinizing the map to see in which direction the train was bound.

It's Spring here, and everything is in bloom in the country. Oh! The beautiful country; green grass all over, that healthy, beautiful green; and the enormous lawns were so well taken care of. The roads were so clean, and the old-fashioned carriages and mules — how we enjoyed the sight of them!

We're having a lot of fun with the Brit ish money, too. The pennies equal two cents, and they're as big as dollars. I changed a quarter and they gave me about twelve of those big things.

The soldiers are all craving for candies. I gave them all I had. That means a sacrifice for you and Nanette ; each time you have a penny, think of the soldiers.

Gas Masks

Dear Mother:

This part of France is wonderful. The little village where we are staying has only fifteen-hundred inhabitants. The large fields sprinkled with daisies, that surround it, the little streams running everywhere, the old trees, and the red-tiled houses —all are charming. One might call it the country of fairies.

The house where we are staying is new, very modern, very comfortable.

Upon arriving here we were given two small medals with our names, regiment, et cetera, in case we should be wounded in the raids. They are also giving us gas masks. It is not probable that we will have occasion to use them, but too much precaution cannot do any harm.

The night of our arrival in the most beautiful city of France, the long-range guns woke us about one o'clock in the morning. The siren sounded and they came and got us out of bed (we were worn out with fatigue) to send us down to the cellars.

The Zeppelins like to torment the in habitants and are greatly amused to see the poor unhappy beings rushed frantically to their caves. Wretched Germans! The longer I live here, the more I detest them.

Our work is very interesting but rather hard now, as they expected twenty operators here, and there are only eleven. The work, therefore, is just double. However, we manage very well.

Falling Into Line

Miss Margaret Anderson, of New York, who also went to France as a "switchboard soldier," describes her way of housekeeping in France:

Dear Mother:

I have at last arrived at a semi-permanent destination, and for the first time since leaving home can begin to settle down a little.

Three other girls and I have been as signed to duty in a seaport city and shall be here for a while at least. We are very comfortable. Our good friends in the army certainly take good care of us and we have been treated with every consideration. The chief signal officer secured a furnished house for us and we four girls have set up housekeeping. We have an excellent French maid and our household arrangements are much better than any of us dreamed of.

This house is fully furnished. We have a sitting-room, dining-room, and kitchen on the first floor and four bedrooms above. We have a stove for coal or wood in the kitchen, and also a gas stove and electric lights. Of course, there is no plumbing in these old French houses and we have to do the pitcher and basin act. There is a bath tub in an outhouse in the yard and you would certainly laugh to see it; it has a stove in it I You draw water from the pump, dump it in the tub and then build a fire in the stove in the tub to heat the water after it is in the tub!


As to eats, we get along famously. We get vegetables and meat from the market -- the maid does that —and we get good old American dry groceries from the Commissary Department. There is nothing but war bread served in France, but the Army has white flour and a soldier from the camp bakery brings us white bread every day. They also supply us with sugar. A nice French woman on the next block, with whom our Captain is quartered, has taken a great interest in us and has given us lots of points about where to get things. She is most kind. This morning she offered us a lot of music. We have a piano and one of the girls plays delightfully.

We are planning to stay in most of the time when we are off duty and have our friends come here, as there isn't much to do in the town and it will make a nice change for the officers. So far we have been most courteously treated. It is up to us anyway ; you always get back what you give out, I think.

There is a hospital near here where the nurses have a room where they can dance until ten o'clock every night. We can go there whenever we want to. The nurses are very cordial, and as they are not allowed to go anywhere at night, I guess they are glad to see us.

Please don't imagine that we don't work. We are finding plenty to do.

The soldiers have been running the lines as best they could, but it has been hard for them to get along and we certainly are wel comed by them. Our knowledge of both languages makes it so much easier for us. We go on duty two at a time and a soldier sleeps there at night when it is not busy and has an alarm to wake him up when any one wants to talk. The Sergeant, who is a sort of wire chief, I believe, is from New York, and has played George's accompaniments at the Telephone Club. Isn't that strange?

Miss Ester Fresnel, of New York. Tells of How She Spends Her "off" Days in France

April 29— Monday morning before going to work.

Dear ________:

Yesterday I had another holiday. The day started out beautifully and Louise le Breton and I went for a long, long walk. Never in my life have I seen such a countryside as this. The beauty of it all grips me so sometimes that it renders me speechless — me of all people. Well— we went into a pine forest and we were so tremendously happy there that we hated to come back. These pine trees grow on hillsides which are so steep that they are almost like a wall. The ground is a light "beige" color, being covered with a deep carpet of bleached and faded pine needles. We sat there and listened to the sound of the Marne below— (there were some falls about three feet high) and the wind coming through the pine trees, and the birds. It was perfectly wild and still and just filled you with peace.

It seems awfully hard to believe that in another part of this country, just as beauti ful (for there isn't a spot in France that doesn't grip you with its loveliness), so much destruction and devastation can be.


While we were sitting there, thinking naturally of you (whenever I give myself a moment's rest, my thoughts just bound back to you), we heard the strangest sound — like the old wooden clock we have in the hall. I simply couldn't believe my ears — but it was a cuckoo. Think of it— the first I ever heard. So Louise and I hunted for it because we wanted to see it, and we did.

The unfortunate part of it is that I had no money in my pocket when I heard it. It seems that when you hear the cuckoo for the first time, if you have money on your person, you'll have no financial trouble; in fact, you'll be rich for the rest of the year. According to this story I shall have to come to someone for help.

We may be able to get horses to ride,— Louise and I. I'm so sorry I didn't bring my riding suit. I'm going to get one here — just riding breeches, if I can. I've got to go to the office now. We're getting busier and busier every day...


Things here go on pretty much the same way, day after day. We're very excited occasionally because some great personage or other telephones, and the girl who puts the call through is very, very proud, and excites the great envy of the other tele phone operators. Sometimes some great man or other comes into our office and we all sit up just as straight as can be and look strictly business, but it's awfully hard not to turn around just to get a single peep at him...

Life as Usual

I lead a pretty normal existence — if it weren't for the innumerable uniforms (there are no civilians here except the women) — and the aeroplanes. Why, one wouldn't imagine any struggle was going on at all. Of course, being at General Headquarters of the American Army, one isn't apt to be in the front-line trench. We are in the war zone though, and up to the present time the only girl telephone operators as tar up. But we don't hear any cannon nor do shells occasionally disturb the general peace and quiet that prevails.

Occasionally we see men coming in from what we imagine to be the front. (They haven't a sign posted on them telling us where they come from.) Then. too. we are right next to a base hospital, and the general nature of the traffic accordingly brings home to us what is going on.

But the thing that impresses us most at times is the horses. If you could see those wretched beasts! They are evidently here to recuperate—just strings and strings of them, led by French soldiers. Once they must have been fine animals. They all seem to be young, but they are wrecks, absolute wrecks. The poor things walk along with their heads down, as though they must realize what an awful sight they are —but resigned and just going on, and on, and on. I just hate to look at them and yet I can't help it.

That, and occasional wounded being rushed to and from the hospital are the only things we see which bring home poignantly that a war is going on. One gets accustomed to seeing uniforms. It's only a civilian that makes us turn around.

Sometimes, too, when we have a day off and happen to pass a railroad and see a troop train, we remember, but otherwise we do our work, eat, and sleep in a normal way. I hardly imagine we are going to stay here always, though. I know some of us us are going to be moved to other places in this section. Of course, we know not when nor where, exactly.

"Pioneers in Service Telephone Operators Taking Their Place in the Service of Uncle Sam Overseas," in The Telephone Review, Vol. 9, No. 7, July 1918, pp. 203-206.

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