In lieu of this past Veteran’s Day, the Philly311 Contact Center would like to commemorate a group of veterans near to our heart: “The Hello Girls.”
The Hello Girls was a unit of female telephone operators within the U.S. Signal Corps during World War I. The recruitment of this unit began in 1917, when U.S. General Pershing posted an appeal in national newspapers for French speaking, experienced telephone operators. The unit would be trained by the U.S. military and later deployed to Europe.
Over 7,000 applicants applied to be part of the unit and 450 were actually accepted. The women were trained at Fort Franklin in Maryland, learning both military protocol and telephone operations. The girls would operate the switchboards for telephonic communication between the front line and American Expeditionary Forces headquarters. In 1918, the first deployment of 33 girls left for Europe. The telephone operators eventually worked in over 75 cities in France and a few cities in England.
Being a Hello Girl wasn’t just a military “desk job.” During the Battle of Mihiel, a front line switchboard operation building was attacked by enemy forces and caught on fire. The girls worked through the fire, answering and transferring calls, until the American Expeditionary Forces threatened to court martial them if they did not leave the building. This particular unit was awarded a military honor for bravery. The Chief Operator Grace Banker was also awarded the Distinguished Service Medal after the war.
During the time, U.S. military doctrines only outlined specifications for the male gender. This meant that the women were viewed as civilians rather than soldiers and were not awarded veteran’s status after the war. The battle over this status continued for nearly fifty-years, led by former operator Merle Eagan Anderson. President Carter signed the bill in 1978, awarding the deserved veteran’s status to the remaining Hello Girls of World War I.
The Philly311 team extends our most sincere gratitude to all of our nation’s veterans. Our country owes both our past and future successes to your time of service.