Start My Family Tree Welcome to Geni, home of the world's largest family tree.
Join Geni to explore your genealogy and family history in the World's Largest Family Tree.

The 'Hello Girls' of World War I

« Back to Projects Dashboard

Project Tags

view all 14

Profiles

  • Chf. Operator Grace Paddock (1892 - 1960)
    Grace D. Banker (October 25, 1892 – September 17, 1960)[1] was a telephone operator who served during World War I (1917–1918) as chief operator of mobile for the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) i...
  • Merle Anderson (1898 - c.1984)
    Among those serving during World War I was Merle Egan of Helena, a telephone switchboard operator for the Army Signal Corps. A vitally important technology to U.S. military operations, telephones all...
  • Eleanor Rowena Leonard (1889 - d.)
    : During World War I, some 223 members of the U.S. Army Signal Corps performed a highly specialized service which demanded great skill, nerve and tenacity: Over the vast network of telephone lines th...
  • Oleda Christides (1897 - 1984)
    From Marine City, Michigan, a 19-year-old American of French-Canadian origin named Oleda Joure also volunteered. She had been trained by Bell Telephone to train women to operate switchboards, when she ...
  • Louise Maxwell (bef.1900 - d.)
    Hello Girls were subject to military justice. In fact, the chief signal officer once threatened Louise Le Breton Maxwell with court martial after she violated censorship rules by writing a fellow H...

During World War I, some 223 members of the U.S. Army Signal Corps performed a highly specialized service which demanded great skill, nerve and tenacity: Over the vast network of telephone lines that had been hastily constructed across France, these women soldiers worked the complicated switchboards connecting the ever-shifting front lines with vital supply depots and military command. At the height of the fighting, they connected over 150,000 calls per day. Telephones were the newest instrument of war.

They had been specifically recruited for this task. They underwent physical training, they received medical examinations and inoculations, they swore the Army oath, they wore regulation uniforms and "identity discs" (akin to dogtags) to identify their remains. They observed strict military protocol, they were subject to court-martial, and many found themselves stationed a few short miles from the front during the bloodiest days of that very bloody war, at outposts that came under sustained mortar fire. General "Black Jack" Pershing, who had issued the call that caused so many of them to volunteer, singled them out for praise.

They were brave. They were resourceful. But when they returned home, they discovered to their dismay that, according to the United States government at least, there was one thing they most certainly were not: veterans.

In spite of the seemingly obvious evidence, the fight for veteran status took six decades. According to historian Lettie Gavin (who credits Anderson for “leading the charge”), “More than fifty bills granting veteran status to the Hello Girls were introduced in Congress over the years, but none was passed.” Finally, with help from veterans’ groups and the National Organization for Women, the Hello Girls received veteran status in 1977. By the time their veterans’ benefits had been processed in 1979, only 18 of the 223 women who had served in the Signal Corp were still alive. Fortunately, Merle Egan Anderson was one. She died in 1986, an acknowledged veteran of the U.S. Army.