How the Signal Corps Organized 100 Girls - 1918

Telephone Operators of the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania, at Camp Dix, New Jersey.

Telephone Operators of the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania, at Camp Dix, New Jersey. Circuits of Victory, 1921. GGA Image ID # 199f93401a

Army Telephone Operators in France Speak Both English and French.

The Division on Woman's War Work, Committee on Public Information, issues the following:

Owing to the problems which the use of two languages presented to the American troops in France, and the necessity of accurate intercommunication between the American and the French Armies, the Signal Corps has sent abroad 100 trained women telephone operators, who speak both French and English fluently, to work in military telephone exchanges in bases of supplies and points of embarkation. During 1917, the Army used men operators and French women for this work. Neither group proved satisfactory.

Gen. Pershing Cables Request

General Pershing Reviewing Signal Corps Telephone Operators of the American Expeditionary Force on the Rhine.

General Pershing Reviewing Signal Corps Telephone Operators of the American Expeditionary Force on the Rhine. Photographed at Divisional Headquarters near Coblenz. The Telephone Review, August 1919. GGA Image ID # 191f61b3f0

Therefore, in the early part of November, a cablegram was sent to the Signal Corps of the United States Army by Gen. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, recommending that, on account of the great difficulty in obtaining suitably qualified men, a force of women telephone operators speaking French and English equally well should be organized and sent to France.

He required three chief operators at $125 a month, nine supervising operators at $72 a month, 24 long-distance operators at $60 a month, 54 operators at $60 a month, ten substitute operators at $50 per month, a total of 100. All should have the allowances of Army nurses and should be uniformed.

Capt. E. J. Wesson, civilian personnel section of the Signal Corps, experienced in recruiting emergency groups of trained workers, was given charge of the proposed unit. Capt. W. S. Vivian was made responsible for the housing and general welfare of the operators in France.

Small Percentage Qualified

Thinking that it might be possible to obtain telephone operators with equal command of both languages in parts of the country with large numbers of French inhabitants, an effort was first made to obtain the group from Montreal, Canada, and Louisiana.

The announcement was placed in French-Canadian papers, with the result that from 300 to 400 women applied. Out of these, only six could be considered. The announcement was then made to the press of the country and telephone companies.

A list of 2,400 applications was received, which yielded two experienced operators who could speak both languages and 25 possible eligible. To this date, 7,600 applications have been received.

Besides the 100 already sent over, 150 fully equipped are now in training schools to meet a possible demand, and a list of 400 as a reserve force is on file.

Classified in Groups

The group of 100 is composed for the most part of French girls who have come to America or American girls who have lived in France. The unit was sent in 3 groups of about 30 each.

Groups No. 1 and 2 are made up of experienced telephone operators. Group No. 3 consists of girls who have been given intensive emergency training in telephony.

These girls come from New York State, California and Massachusetts sent the next largest numbers for the most part. Seventy-two percent are Americans: 28 percent are foreign-born—French, Belgian. Canadian, English, Swiss, and Dutch East Indian.

Under existing laws, wives of Army officers and enlisted men who are liable for duty abroad are not eligible for membership in this unit.

An unauthorized statement, which appeared in many papers, saying that a unit of telephone girls was to be organized and that many women whose husbands were officers had thus found a way to go abroad, occasioned an enormous number of applications and met with an emphatic denial from the Signal Corps.

Rigid Tests Required

Upon filling out the application blanks, which asked for facts about age, nationality, knowledge of French and English, previous telephone experience, and health, and which demanded a promise to serve for the duration of the war.

The candidate whose answers indicated satisfactory qualifications was given an examination by the manager of the local telephone company, who the Signal Corps had authorized.

A full report on the ability and character of the applicant was submitted to a board of experts in New York. A psychologist gave tests to the prospective operators similar to the methods used by the Army in examining officers.

Also, since the work which the unit would perform was of a confidential military nature and would give the members essential knowledge of the movements of troops, Secret Service agents investigated their loyalty and motives for applying for service.

Began Training 12 January 1918

On 12 January, the first group entered the training schools to be trained in advanced telephony. Practice was then given in the largest private branch exchange in New York, followed by three days' work in cantonment telephone exchanges, to acquire familiarity with military terms.

During the period of training military drill was given the women every day. Lectures were delivered to them by officers of the Signal Corps on the duties of that branch of the Army and its traditions.

The importance of the lines of communication in modern warfare was explained, and the various responsibilities of the divisions of the Signal Corps were outlined. Women surgeons gave talks upon personal hygiene.

On 2 March, the first contingent sailed, and later in the month, American officers in France were agreeably surprised by hearing over the military telephones operators who used American terms, gave splendid service, and who could translate the message of a French officer to an American officer, or vice versa.

A second group sailed on 16 March, and a third during the latter part of April. They were stationed in groups of 10 in American bases of supplies and points of embarkation.

The women's Telephone Unit members were required to pass strict health examinations and were inoculated and vaccinated in the same manner as American soldiers.

Out of 60 girls who were immunized, not one fainted. An officer who has seen many soldiers meet the same experience said this was most unusual.

The uniform was designed and prescribed by the War College. It consisted of a blue coat and skirt made of navy blue serge, strictly tailor-made; tailored shirtwaist of navy blue palm beach cloth or similar material; and straight-brimmed hat of blue felt, with the official orange and white hat cord of the Signal Corps.

The brassard on the coat's left sleeve is of white whipcord or doeskin, bearing small devices indicating the status of chief operator, supervisor, and operator.

"It would be impossible to brigade an American troop without these girls," Capt. Wesson, who has recruited the unit, states. "They are going to astound the people over there by the efficiency of their work.

In Paris, it takes from 40 to 60 seconds to complete one telephone call. Our girls are equipped to handle 300 calls an hour. The English Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, the "Waaca," are doing similar work.

Still, they are not equipped with fluent knowledge of French, and the American system of telephony has always been better than the European one.

Personnel of the Units

The personnel of the Woman's Telephone Unit follows:

  1. Melina J. Adam
  2. Margaret Anderson
  3. Albertine Asrents
  4. Eulalie I. Audet
  5. Grace Banker
  6. Julie Barrere
  7. Marie B. Belanger
  8. Suzanne M. Beraud
  9. Frances Paine Bigelow
  10. Michele F. Blanc
  11. Margaret S. Bleyers
  12. Jeanne Bouchet
  13. Marie L. Bousquet
  14. Emma Marie Brousseau
  15. Almería Capistran
  16. Estelle L. Caron
  17. Bertha A. Carrel
  18. Martha L. Carrel
  19. Suzanne Cohelcach
  20. Mrs. Inez Crittenden
  21. Jean Cunningham
  22. Josephine Davis
  23. Lucille De Jersey
  24. Miriam De Jersey
  25. Frances Des Jardins
  26. Edith Dodson
  27. Cordelia Dupuis
  28. Louise Essirard
  29. Sara Fecteau
  30. Marie Floyd
  31. Marie Louise Ford
  32. Anna C. Fox
  33. Esther Fresnel
  34. Marie A. Gagnon
  35. Yvonne M. Gauther
  36. Lydia C. Gelinas
  37. Louiscttc H. Gravard
  38. Charlotte Gyss
  39. Winifred Hardy
  40. Darnaby Henton
  41. Matina Heymen
  42. Adele L. Hoppock
  43. Bertha M. Hunt
  44. Elizabeth Hunter
  45. Margaret Hutchins
  46. Derise Ingram
  47. Amallem Jackson
  48. Janet R. Jones
  49. Hope Kerkin
  50. Ethel Keyser
  51. Florence F. Keyser
  52. Marie S. La Blanc
  53. Leontine Lamoureux
  54. Anns Le Borde
  55. Louise Le Breton
  56. Raymond Le Breton
  57. Martha Libert
  58. Nellie Martin
  59. Mrs. Pauline MacDermott
  60. Blanche Grand Maitre
  61. Marie Antonette Neyrat McEntyre
  62. Maude McLowell
  63. Renne Messelin
  64. Margaret H. Milner
  65. Kathleen Mitchell
  66. Minerva G. Nadeau
  67. Helen A. Naismith
  68. Drucilla Palmer
  69. Lawrence Helene Pechin
  70. Helen F. Perreton
  71. Bertha Plamondon
  72. Marie Ponsolle
  73. Suzanne Prevot
  74. Eugenie Racicot
  75. Minnie R. Richards
  76. Katharine Hay Robinson
  77. Dorothy L. Sage
  78. Georgette Schaerr
  79. Olive M. Shaw
  80. Martha Steinbruner
  81. Marion A. Taylor
  82. Agnes M. Theriault
  83. Evelyn Thomas
  84. Dee Van Balkom
  85. Bertha H. Verkler
  86. Lillian V. Verkler
  87. Isabelle Villiers
  88. Alice V. Ward
  89. Ethelyn White
  90. Mrs. Clara Whitney

"How the Signal Corps Organized 100 Girls: Army Telephone Operators in France Speak Both English and French," in Telephone Engineer, Chicago: Electricity Magazine Corporation, Vol. XX, No. 2, August 1918, pp. 69-70.

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