Telephone Girls “At Home” in France - 1918
A Busy Hour at Tours Central Office Chief Operator Marion Swan Watching Work of Her Operating Force. Circuits of Victory, 1921. GGA Image ID # 19a00ba7af
Arrival of American Operator in France Solution of a Big Problem — Work Fraught with Difficulties but Girls Filled with Enthusiasm in Being Able to Perform a Service that Is Vital - Arrangements for Their Comfort and Welfare by Miss Caroline O'Donnell
“Can you speak French fluently?” The telephone girl who replies in the affirmative may pack up her troubles in her old kit bag and smile, smile, smile—for she is as good as started on her way to France.
This question was not put to the would-be officers, luckily for most of them. But when they were emptied from the great transports upon the shores of France, they found themselves among a people whom they could not understand and to whom they could not make themselves understood, and their troubles began. They did expect some difficulties to arise, but they had no idea of the many perplexities they would encounter, some of which proved serious ones.
Telephones in wartime, and especially in the war zone, are almost as necessary as soldiers and guns, but their value diminishes when one cannot make himself understood over the wire. When the American officer unacquainted with the French language tried to give the “hello girl” his number, he failed to get the connection. Something had to be done.
The American telephone girl of the Signal Corps was the solution of the problem. Her arrival in France and her place at the switchboard straightened matters out wonderfully. Now when an officer in a crucial point in the battle, seizes the telephone and places the receiver at his ear, he hears the voice of his American sister speaking the only language he knows.
Greatly relieved, he gives his number, the connection is made, and the battle is half won. When at a lull in the battle there is time for reflection, many an officer wishes he had studied French in high school instead of one of the dead languages.
Where Telephone Girls Live in France. Despite Unpapered Walls, This Room in France in Portable Barracks Has Something of Air of a College Dormitory. It Is a Billet for Signal Corps Telephone Operators in Neufchateau. Photograph by Signal Corps AEF, 1918. National Archives and Records Administration, 111-SC-50699. NARA ID # 86707156. GGA Image ID # 198f2fdf10
Happiness that comes from a feeling of satisfaction in doing a service that is vital is heaped up for the telephone girl when she is free from her duties and returns to the Y. W. C A. Hostess House, which is her home in France. Any feeling of homesickness that she may have had is quickly dispelled once she enters this hospitable dwelling. Here new friends are made and old friendships are strengthened. The lives of the girls are broadening through the exchange of experiences that each brings home.
Mingling with the trained telephone girls are many who have had no previous telephone training in America, but who speak French easily and have come for patriotic service. Some come direct from college., others have been schoolteachers. All are fired with an enthusiasm for service, and each is giving in abundance of her talents.
It is a high type of worker that one finds in the YWCA Hostess House. In one part of the cozy room can be heard girls chatting in French, in another girls conversing in English and a mixed company is not an uncommon sight. Girls with their knitting find it easy to talk about their folks at home, while others are writing home.
As in the American Hostess Houses, only the girls live at the house, but men may take their meals there. The dining room is crowded at mealtime. Men and women of all departments of war service in as many different kinds of uniforms, make up the large company. There are YMCA and YWCA workers, men and women doctors, telephone girls, Red Cross nurses and many others. All find the Hostess House a place of shelter and comfort.
Service—greater and better service— has always been the slogan of the telephone girl, but she finds it with a new meaning in the war-swept country. Fraught with danger, it requires courage and fortitude to face each day’s duties.
There are five operators at St. Nazaire at present, but more will be added as the demand is increasing. When the size of the little family requires it, a splendid new home will be procured for them. It will be a home by the sea. What American girl denied this pleasure, has not pictured it in her dreams? But who has dreamed of its being in France? Yet it is a possibility for the telephone girl at St. Nazaire.
The home that they have been occupying is not altogether comfortable and it is not well located. As soon as the Y. W\ C. A. committee became acquainted with these conditions, steps were taken for procuring a new home. They heard of a house by the sea, just a short distance out of the city. It would be far enough away from the city to give the girls a quiet place for rest and would also be convenient for work. They visited the home, found it in good repair and a delightful place. It had been formerly rented by the YMCA
Arrangements were made at once for securing a lease on the place. One of the two owners was called upon and the matter of securing transportation service by the army and other details were arranged while the committee was in Brest. They returned quite certain of occupancy in the near future.
At present it is too large for the telephone family at St. Nazaire and until they are ready for it, it will be used for American women in France who would like to spend short vacations under the roof of the association residence. Miss Watson has been appointed head resident of the women’s residence.
Blue triangles, the official insignia of the Y. W. C. A., appear beside the doors of the two hotels, one in Paris and one in Tours, which have been taken over by the YWCA War Work Council as homes for the women’s telephone unit of the American Signal Corps. Twenty- five operators are staying at the Paris hotel where Mrs. Lulu Frick Taylor, of Detroit, is the secretary in charge.
The hotel in Tours was a large, comfortable residence which has been made over into a clubhouse and dormitory. The broad hall is used by the girls as a reception room and there is a salon, dining room, office and kitchen all on the first floor. On the second and third floor in the “sky parlor” and the gabled attic are the nicely fitted up bedrooms. At the head of the wide stairway is a sun parlor which is used as a writing and reading room. Miss Elizabeth F. Fox, of New York, is managing this clubhouse.
Miss Caroline O’Donnell “Telephone Girls ‘At Home’ in France,” in Telephony: The American Telephone Journal, Chicago: The Telephony Publishing Company, Vol. 75, No. 11, Saturday, 14 September 1918, p. 19.