Blue Triangle Follows the Switchboard - 1919
She Has Rather an Eye to Business, This Girl, Marjorie Kinnan, of the Signal Corps, Staying at The YWCA Hotel In France. Southern Telephone News, April 1919. GGA Image ID # 198285c62a
For the first time in history, a great war has been carried to a successful conclusion with women recognized officially as part of the army.
The women telephone operators of the Signal Corps have played an enviable part, not even surpassed by the work of the nurses, for in many cases, their units were located only twelve miles behind the firing line and were subjected to all the dangers of those within range of the sweeping Teuton guns.
These girls were under the same military rule as the Sammies in the trenches. They had to have passes galore, had to report to their superior officer, the chief operator. Discipline regulated their comings-in and their goings-out, and in reward for their service, they wore the symbols of the trust of a nation on their collar—the letters "U. S."
It is interesting to know that the work of housing these units was also entrusted officially to women. The government asked the Young Women's Christian Association, prepared for such service by its equipment, personnel, and fifty-two years of experience in housing women, to look after every unit's physical welfare that arrived in France.
This was successfully achieved in every instance, though the difficulties of obtaining lodgings, servants, and rations in headquarters' towns were almost impossible, and the fearful cost of bare necessities made it a real problem to keep expenses down within reach of the women, who shared all expenses of the house on the cooperative basis.
The $15 per week, which is usually averaged to live, was considered an achievement of genius by the interested army men, who had had to pay as much as $7 for a single dinner in Paris.
"Hominess" a Feature
The houses were almost always attractive old French establishments, sometimes with the quaintest of gardens and gorgeous shrubbery.
Even the officers flocked to the side of the grate fire and absorbed the undeniable air of American "hominess." Again, the place was only a set of rooms, but the unit's home was the best obtainable whatever its nature.
In many cases, it was better than the officers stationed in a town declared possible to obtain, as in one village very near the front, just before the last big drive, where the YWCA secretary in charge of the unit to be moved there, got hold of a splendid house, a feat which had been proclaimed impossible.
Incidentally, this particular finding of lodgings made it possible to have the unit close to the action. It put through such perfect connections that a good share of the incredible drive's success is credited to these women telephone operators.
Now the Signal Corps is in Germany with the Army of Occupation—and there is the YWCA, too, which has just reported the establishment of two hostess houses "somewhere in Germany," for the use of American women canteen workers and Signal Corps girls who have advanced with the A. E. F.
Since the signing of the armistice, a Signal Corps girl's life has been restless, shifting thing, as she found herself moved from one town to another, from France to Germany and back again, without choice or warning.
She was sent to Paris to the Peace Conference or Coblenz—it was the fortune of war. But so long as the Y. W. .C A. went with her, she found herself not totally without comforts. At Christmas, she fared well, for two telephone companies sent Christmas money for parties and chocolates and such feminine luxuries as beauty pins.
One of these companies sent the money through its employees, who gave up a stock dividend to provide all the units abroad with an American Christmas.
The first work of the YWCA with the Signal Corps came about by accident. In its hurry and rush of detail, the government had been unable to procure housing facilities for the first unit to go abroad, which did not know when it was to embark, and so could not get lodgings as scattered individuals.
The girls were to be housed in warehouses on Hoboken's docks while waiting to sail—an uncomfortable arrangement. Miss Vera Schaefer, of the Industrial Department of the Young Women's Christian Association, who had had many telephone girls in her club work, heard of this condition and received permission to bring the unit to the YWCA's National Training School, where it provided cots and cleanliness and food, at any rate.
When this same unit was due to arrive in France, the officers in charge of billeting it came in desperation to the Hotel Petrograd, the YWCA hostess house in Paris, and asked to have the girls taken care of there.
As a result of its quick-measure assistance, the government decided that women were the best providers for women's needs, and the YWCA the most efficient provider on the list of women who would do.
Based on the article by Marjorie Kinnan, Blue Triangle Follows the Switchboard, in Southern Telephone News, Atlanta: Southern Group of Bell Telephone Companies, Vol. 7, No. 4, April 1919, p. 15.