Hello—Over There! - Our Telephone Girls Take On Paris - 1918
The Telephone Girls of New England "Over There" Have Put Pep into the Hello Service for General Pershing. Many of the American Girls Work within Hearing of Bombardments. Boston Sunday Post, 6 October 1918. GGA Image ID # 19ad53a48c
PARIS, Sept. 17 (by mail). —American telephone girls reign in royal state in France. They are adored by the French and worshipped by the Americans, and yet they are not spoiled.
Ninety-nine operators are in France. Additional units are on the way. Those already here are pretty well scattered, though there are two or three large units.
The happiest unit—at least the girls claim they are the happiest unit—is stationed in the City of Discontent, so-called because it is far behind the battle lines, and practically everyone there is anxious to get to the front.
Two dances a week are given for the girls, one by the YMCA and the other by the YWCA Also, they are the honored guests of all entertainments, including theatre parties. Besides, they have an athletic field of their own, provided by the YWCA
All the telephone girls in this town are quartered at the Signal Girls Club, a French hotel taken over by the YWCA, especially for their use.
Their life is not all play, however. The girls are under military discipline. Each is allowed four passes a week—two late and two early. The early passes call for them to return to the club by 10:30. The late passes will enable them to remain out until midnight.
The military authorities have recognized the girls' presence and their value to the army by granting enlisted men who take them to dances the privilege of returning to quarters forty-five minutes late to take the girls' home. Thirty-five minutes are allowed for the trip and ten minutes for the "goodbyes"!'
The girls' reign in a democratic state. They accept the invitations of officers and enlisted men alike. Rank is forgotten, though military courtesy is maintained.
There are so many more men than girls at these dances that the girls are called upon not only to "halve" but to "quarter" their dances so that every man may have at least part of a dance. Every girl is a belle every night in the week.
Not all of the girls are Americans by birth, though they have lived in the United States. They all, however, speak English and French. The chief requirement for service now is that a girl shall be a proficient operator and measure up concerning age and character. Only the most refined type of telephone girl is accepted for service over here.
The army not only adores the girls, but it looks out for them and protects them in every way. Every night one of the quickest of the hard-hitting military policemen of the City of Discontent keeps watch and guard over their clubhouse. He is armed with a nightstick and revolver. Also, he is of Belgian descent and speaks French and Flemish perfectly. He is the most envied man in the town.
Miss Mary Snow of Lowell, Mass., an experienced operator of the Bell Telephone Company, is the chief operator. She is also a commanding officer of the girls and issues the passes and looks after them generally.
She is a fine type of American womanhood and works in close co-operation with Miss Katherine Fox, who back home is dean of the women's department of Oregon University, and who in France is in charge of the YWCA clubhouse and work for the telephone girls in this division.
Telling of the work of the club telephone girls in France, Miss Snow said:
"The work of the telephone girls here is much as it is at home. The life is different. We work in seven- and eight-hour shifts, according to the time the work is done. We have no late-night shifts, however, for the work is light then and the men take it over.
"With ninety-nine girls over here, we, of course, have many types represented, but the group is a remarkably fine one. It includes college girls who came because this offered them the only opportunity to get into war work. They were sent to a telephone school before they came here.
"The girls are under military discipline and observe it wonderfully well. It is hard for a girl who has been used to do almost as she pleases to have to secure permission before she can go for a walk after dark, but they are meeting the situation in a splendid way.
"I would not have missed coming for anything. 'I had hoped to be sent to the front, but though some of our girls are within shell range of the enemy, the army has taken every precaution to protect us. It seems that they cannot do enough for us. They are the finest men in the world.
"We are the happiest women in the world, for we were allowed to come to France to do our part in winning the war."
Arthur E. Hungerford, "Hello-Over There!" in The Mountain States Monitor, Denver: The Mount States Telephone and Telegraph Company, pp. 15 & 19. Originally Written for the New York Tribune.