Fifth Unit of Telephone Operators Arrive in France - 1918

Fifth Unit of Telephone Operators for General Pershing's Army, from the Forces of the Bell System Photographed on Roof of 195 Broadway, New York, August 2. 1918.

Fifth Unit of Telephone Operators for General Pershing's Army, from the Forces of the Bell System Photographed on Roof of 195 Broadway, New York, August 2. 1918. Left to Right. Front Row: Miss Mildred Lewis, Miss Zada Freelove Black, Miss Anita Chance, Miss Louise Barbour, Miss Anna Kinney, Miss Nell S. Wilkins, Miss Helen Cook, Miss Norma G. Finch, Miss Elizabeth M. Shovar, Miss Sarah Fairbrother, Miss Annie F. Sheerin, Miss Ruth Keeping, Miss Helen M. Hayes, Miss Christie V. Bickford. Back Row: Miss Elizabeth Macauley, Miss Agnes E. Blazina, Miss Ena Robb, Miss Louise M. Wilcox, Miss Faye R. Honey, Miss Martha M. Henshaw, Miss Merle Egan, Miss Laura Gridley, Miss Helen Carey, Miss Vera Sjostrom, Miss Jessie D. Brown, Miss Grace B. Knall, Miss Elizabeth O'Brien, Miss Mary E. Sealey, Miss Irene A. Gifford, Miss Marguerite Mahoney. The Telephone Review, September 1918. GGA Image ID # 1928fddc68

Fifth Unit of Telephone Operators Arrives in France Composed of Experienced Long Distance Operators from the Bell System.

The fifth unit of American tele phone operators for General Pershing's army in France sailed from an American seaport early in August, and its members are now bravely at work helping in the grand cause of defeating the [Germans] in the land where they have no right to be, and driving them back to where they belong.

A German prisoner who was cap tured at Xivray complained : "We couldn't take the village because the Americans were where they had no business to be. They came right out through the barrage, and it wasn't right." They will probably say that these girls are "where they have no business to be," and that "they came right out through the U-boats, and it wasn't right!"

But there they are in France, and still others are to follow soon, to operate the lines our boys have built.

We are fortunate in having obtained permission to publish the first pictures that have been released by the Committee on Public Information showing a group of telephone girls trained by the Bell System actually at work in France, and some pole lines in France constructed by our men in the Signal Corps.

This last unit of operators, unlike the former ones, is composed of experienced long distance operators ex clusively. The request was sent to the Bell System to supply a small group of operators having had two years' or more experience in long distance particular party operating.

When this became known, more than two hun dred and fifty applications were sent in from operators who were anxious to go and do their bit "over there."

It is no less important, however, that ef ficient telephone service shall continue to be maintained in this country, and no one knows better than the girls themselves that the work of local and long distance operating in this country is absolutely necessary and just as patriotic a duty us overseas service.

Girls were accepted from different company organizations, therefore, so as not to cripple any one of them. The American Telephone and Telegraph Company Long Lines Department supplied six; the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company, seven; the Michigan State Telephone Company, four: the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, four; the Mountain State Telephone and Telegraph Company, three ; the Chicago Telephone Company, two ; the Iowa Telephone Company, one ; the Nebraska Telephone Company, one ; the Southern New England Telephone Company, one ; and the New York Telephone Company, one.

No appointments were made of chief operators, as was done in previous units, since there are now so many operators in France that promotions will be made over there.

The group was organized with Miss Helen Cook as supervisor, and Miss Louise Barbour, Miss Jessie D. Brown, and Miss Irene A. Gifford, as operators-in-charge, and en route it was under the command of Lieutenant Eugene D. Hill, of the Signal Corps, formerly of the traffic department of the Cumberland Telephone and Telegraph Company in Kentucky.

Telephone Operators in France All Enthusiastic About Their Work and Uncle Sam

War! War! War! The cry meets our ears and our eyes at every move we make. Unless we are either directly or indirectly connected with some branch of war work, whether it be an essential in dustry or military service, we feel that we are failing in our duty. "Win the war we must, and win the war we will," is the determination of every loyal American, and the telephone operator has come into her own, for with her lies one of the greatest opportunities that is afforded to women in such a crisis.

She is not a raw recruit, for years her training have made her hands nimble and her brain quick. She can do her one great task better than anyone else, and the Government has asked her to give of her best. Has she given it ? Who can doubt ?

In America every operator is doing her utmost to give good service, for she knows that great things are at stake. Abroad, she has won the commendation of all, making the experiment of substituting women for men at the war switch boards in France a success, releasing men for active service at the front.

The tenor of the letters from the girls to their pa rents and friends is an index of the splendid spirit of service that in spires them. Like our men, they put self into the back ground, and forget that they are anything except workers for Uncle Sam, filled with enthusiasm, and fired with determination to meet and over come all obstacles. Side by side they are working, all one in spirit, though in different countries, with Victory as the goal.

Operating a Switchboard in Paris Described by Miss Laurence Pechin, of San Francisco, a Member of the Second Unit

How quaint and old this seaport town was! [Referring to the port where they disembarked in France.] It seemed like a painted city upon a painted canvas. Our sojourn there was brief but most enjoy able. From there we journeyed to the de lightful town of Tours in the heart of the Château country. It is as much like the rolling California country as two things can be alike! How peaceful and fruitful the French landscape seemed! It made one feel that a land so rich was perfectly capable of winning this great struggle. All of us were quite charmed with what we saw of France. We had seen none of her misery as yet.

Finally, the day of separation came and we were all sent to different French posts. With Mrs. Crittenden, I was fortunate enough to be sent to Paris. Of course we nearly all were hoping to be there, but then others needed us as much as the great Capital.

American Spirit

Our life here has been a busy one. The office we went to at first was only temporary, and we then moved to our present one. You may have wonderful ones in the U. S., but I am sure none as pretty as ours. It is located in one of the ex-fashionable French hotels and still retains an atmos phere of its former glory. The switchboard is a little jewel and has won us all by its beauty !

The girls are always early at their work and their greatest pleasure in life is to give connections accurately and quickly. "Of course, a very able chief operator,— Mrs. Crittenden, —assisted by conscientious supervisors, such as Miss Messelin and Miss Carrel, give an example that we little "privates" cannot help but emulate.

No one cares about an eight-hour day, — time is nothing to us here. Of course, we usually have only eight hours, but during our "cutover," from the Chief Operator down, we worked as much as twelve hours and thought it good fun ! That's the American woman's spirit when in Uncle Sam's uniform!

Now, do not think we never play. After dinner we sometimes go to the Opera or the Cotncdie Francais or, again, to a "Cinema." as they call them here.

On Sundays, or days off, we visit all the places of interest we can. We have been to some of the world-famous Churches — La Madeline Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame, also to Versailles and Sevres. Our next trip will be to St. Cloud by boat, and we are like school-girls in our expectation.

To the End!

Sometimes, too, we hear the cannon's roar, for the dear enemy likes to bombard us,—with Big Bertha. —by day, and give us air-raids by night. Neither of these does any good in the war game.

They succeed sometimes in killing women and children or old men, but that is all. We object to the night attacks because they disturb our slumbers. The only reason they do this is to weaken our morale!

The French and Americans are too much alike for that, and become determined to see the thing through to the end ! As our French friends say, "On les aura," and so we will.

Our men are wonders, filling in the breaches everywhere, and preferring death to retreat! We feel sad when we see the ambulances filled with wounded, but also we are mighty proud of "our boys."

Everyone is just fine, and I only wish you all could hear the stories we hear. A French woman told with tears in her eyes of how the "Cher Americains" had filled the ambulances and autos with women and children in order to save them from the hands of the Germans in an invaded city!

Isn't that enough to make you proud of the boys? Well, I guess I have written enough for once, and will close with the best wishes of us all "over here" to you all "over there."

Proud to Be in the Service. American Telephone Operators near the Front in France.

Proud to Be in the Service. American Telephone Operators near the Front in France. Approved by Committee on Public Information. The Telephone Review, September 1918. GGA Image ID # 1982d52ff2

First Impressions

A letter published in The Pacific Telephone Magazine, written by Miss Adele Hoppock, one of the operators from the Pacific Coast now serv ing in France, gives a delightful account of her arrival in France and her experiences there.

We were so glad to arrive in France at last. Three of us were taken out for an auto ride all over the city. There was an Ameri can encampment near, and it was fine to see our soldiers again. We also visited the tele phone office and saw the oldest switchboard in France. My fingerjust itched to get hold of the plugs, but, of course, they wouldn't allow us to do any thing like that...

A Remarkable System

The system here is very interesting, and I can tell you a little about it. Every important place, where head quarters and large camps are located, has a switchboard operated by our girls. This arrangement allows the officers to be con nected with any one in their own camp, and ajso with other camps and cities all over France. The lines connect up with the French lines, and we have to deal with the French operators as well as our own. Many of the calls are long distance. The system. I think, is remarkable, and it will be a great pleasure to work. There are from three toabout thirty girls in each place, according to the amount of business.

Our unit of twenty-seven girls was to be separated and we were to be mixed with those of the first two units. Of course, we were terribly anxious to find out where they were going to place us, and most of us had some definite idea where we wanted to go.

When we arrived at the last city we were told our assignments. I was so afraid they would locate me in some place in the western part of France, far away from the front.

I would have been happy there, but Imuch preferred to be as near the lines as possible. When they read the list of names, you may imagine my de light to find four other girls and myself stationed in the nearest place to the front that our girls are located.

It is not in the danger zone, of course, but is not nearly so far away as itmight be. There are no girU there now, and the board is being run by soldiers.

Some of the other girls who have been here for a while are very anxious to go there, and they say it is the most inter esting place of all, because it is near the front.

Captain Vivian says he pities us be cause it will be hard work, and the switch board is very antique. As there are no girls there yet, we will have to be pioneers and build up our own operating methods. We will have some girl who is thoroughly experienced to be chief operator over us.

This has the reputation of being the best place in France for our girls. It is very different from what I imagined would be our life in France. I had visions of a dugnut, and, instead —a palace. Everything is perfectly grand here...

If I stayed here, I am afraid I would have too good a time. I didn't enlist to be treated like a queen. I expected to rough it and be really in things. I hope that my life in the future will be more of that na ture. Of course, we will have good times where we are going, but I never want to forget the fact that I am here to work hard...

The government is wonderful. There is not a girl among us who would not give anything she could to the United States. It must come first in everything. We are so proud to be in the service and we feel as though it is our privilege, not our duty, to do our utmost...

This morning I was put on the switch board here for an hour's practice. It is fascinating work, and I am so anxious to get started.

Miss Grace D. Banker. of New York, Chief Operator, Realizes That Some of Us Are Not so Different from the Rest of Us

What do you think? I am the proud possessor of a Boche helmet. Of course, if I could have had a hand in the owner's capture I would be prouder. It was given to me by an Australian Captain who had carried it around ever since "Vimy Ridge." Do you know, I sometimes think that the many lands and peoples of the world will not seem half as far removed from one another after this war. Constant contact with the soldiers of the Allies and their colonies makes one realize that, after all, there isn't such a great difference between us all.

The work at the office keeps us pretty busy these days. Our toll work is con tinually growing. In fact, it has very nearly doubled in size since we first came here, almost three months ago. You can't im agine how interesting it all is. Sometimes it is quite a strenuous "game" for, besides the office responsibilities, there are those of the home life, but I never tire of them and I am absolutely happy in my work.

I read the other day that German submarines had appeared off the Jersey coast. That brings the war closer home. You probably know much more about the war itself than we who are over here. There was something else that I read which in terested me. The girls and soldiers who are not in our section may write where they are located and even send post-cards. If that is true, you all ought to receive some really interesting letters. However, even that indticement wouldn't make me want to change places at all.

A Little Fun, Too

Miss Fresnel has become a real soldier, for she says, "What is the earthly use in. worrying about anything whatsoever?" They say that until you can feel that way, you are only a rookie. Then you can begin to enjoy yourself and take things as they come.

General Headquarters was honored one night by a visit from Elsie Janis, about which Miss Fresnel writes:

Last night Elsie Janis was here and sang and danced for the benefit of those stationed at G. H. Q. Yesterday afternoon she was at the hospital, and last evening she performed for the "well people."

It was absolutely delightful. If you knew how envious we girls felt when we saw her in the dearest blue felt hat, and sweater, and the darlingest satin slippers!

Louise and I came late to the show, for you see we had decided not to go. We didn't like to walk way over there and back, so we let the other girls go without us. But after a while some boys came in a "box car" and asked if we wouldn't drive over. In we climbed, and off we went to the show.

The Day after the Fourth


Well, what kind of a fourth did you spend? That was what I was thinking of most of the day. I suppose it was gorgeous hot weather and you all lolled about to your heart's content.

I worked, but I had from 12 to 3:30 off and left the office at 5, so that wasn't so bad.

The French authorities had festivities all day long in honor of the Americans and at 2 o'clock had some kind of an affair in the square of the Hotel de Ville. They had a French band and an American, and between the two we enjoyed it all very much.

Our General and his aide came up in cars and there were some French Generals. They and the Mayor and a lot of other "fonctionnaires" had a grand pow-wow on the steps of the Hotel de Ville, while the bands were playing and the people were looking on. It was quite a sight.

There were people everywhere, —on the roofs, in every single window and balcony, and a huge mob in the square among whom was your daughter and Suzanne, accompanied by a Lieutenant Robert W. Notte, who, by the way, is going back to the States very soon. He came over on the steamer with us, and has happened around here once in a while. He's been just as nice as can be and has taken awfully good care of us, given us advice, et cetera. When he found out he was going to the States for a short while, he rushed over here to get your address and telephone number so that he could look you up and tell you how well I am...

You have no idea how proud I am of being able to be over here, when I think of how little I knew about people, or work of any kind, I'm surprised that I am here. It's late, — so goodbye. My work before all!

A Visit from the Commander-in-Chief

First of all, wonder of wonders, our commander in chief came to pay us an informal visit last Saturday evening at 7:30! He stayed from twenty to twenty-five minutes and during most of that time I was pinching myself to see whether I was really awake or not.

Darlings, he is the most wonderful man in every respect. He wasn't a bit distant or formal, but shook hands with all of us, and asked us individually what part of the States we came from, how we liked it, et cetera.

He went all over the house, into every room, accompanied by his staff, of course, and it was a veritable procession, for we girls escorted them through.

When they left, we all rushed to the windows. Then, all at once, everybody be gan to talk and all through dinner and way into the evening our house was truly as the tower of Babel must have been.

We are most fortunate in our officers, who are men in every sense of the word, and they have their eyes open, I believe, and they do see to it that everything neces sary is done.

I would certainly hate to leave this place except for another one further front.

It's 9:25 now, and I must go inside, as punctuality in the army is everything.

Good Old Uncle Sam!

The girls in France are interspersing their hard work with play, and when they have an opportunity, they go exploring, on foot or on bicycles. As Miss Suzanne Prevot, one of the operators trained by the New York Telephone Company, tells us, they find France very much like the tales of it in old story books, with its old chateaux that boast of centuries. But our girls have not lost their love for our "little old U. S. A.," for Miss Prevot's statement is typical: "I can't tell you how much I admire and love the U. S. It knows how to take care of its girls ;—I think the men think so, too." Miss Prevot's letters are quoted in part:

A Surprise

Dearest :

At last the weather man is ashamed of his past conduct and is giving us perfect weather and we are profiting. Esther and I go for a long walk every morning and in the evenings. One of our favorite walks takes us down to some fields where a little boy and girl watch the cows. We help round them up ; it's great fun.

Last evening Miss B., Esther, and I were honored by an invitation dinner with a General. We had a delightful time, and we finished with coffee in the garden. It was certainly a picture in the dusk with the moon man just coming up over the trees. I shall certainly remember the evening...

I can't tell you how much I admire and love the U. S. It knows how to take care of its girls ; I think the men think so too.

I am counting the weeks till you come and hope it will be very soon.


Dearest Mother :

Tootsie and I tried a great stunt yester day. She has a bicycle and I borrowed one from Louise. Off we started yesterday morning on our wheels. We passed an old chateau, which is from the thirteenth century ; of course, we had to stop. It is just on the banks of a little river named ________. We went through the grounds and visited the inside. It was certainly quaint. The dining-room is a long room paneled in some dark wood. There was an immense fire place at one end with one of those big iron hoods with different trophies, including old helmets, swords, and a pistol. Around a molding half way up the wall were the oldest plates, the loveliest things I have ever seen. On the other side of the room was an immense cupboard, also of some dark wood, all hand carved. In fact, the whole thing impressed us as if we were reading a long-ago story and living in it. The dining-room and drawing-room were the only ones with any amount of furniture in them.

After having had a nice glass of water, we went again for about twenty kilometers. It was about twelve o'clock, so we stopped in a little town and tried to get something to eat but could not until we asked a dear old lady if she could tell us where to get some milk. She very kindly offered us some. So in we went to her nice, cool kitchen.

They Meet an Old Friend

As she was getting the milk we noticed a statue which was that of Liberty. We asked her how she came to have it. We thought some soldier in passing through might have given it to her. She satisfied our minds by telling us her husband helped put it up some twenty-eight or thirty years ago, and had lived in New York eight years. When we told her we were from New York, she quickly got some potatoes and made some French fried potatoes, lovely French eggs, frontage a la crime, with thick cream, and some kind of cake made without sugar. We certainly enjoyed our lunch. She wouldn't accept anything, so we left something under her husband's tobacco jar.

Off we started again, this time going for five or six kilometers more, when we sud denly thought of an engagement for tea we had with some charming people that are perfectly lovely to us. So back we came lickety split, arriving here at four. We washed the ends of our noses and then dashed off. To my great dismay and horror when I looked at myself in the mirror, —I hadn't had time before, I found a face which was sunburned the color of the poppies we passed in the fields. All in all, we had a great day.

"Fifth Unit of Telephone Operators Arrives in France Composed of Experienced Long Distance Operators from the Bell System," in The Telephone Review, Vol. 9, No. 9, September 1918, pp. 254-257.

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