The Hello Girls of World War I
In 1917 Gen. John J. Pershing got a novel idea to improve communications on the Western front. He hired women who spoke French to run the switchboards across France. Over 7,000 women applied, but only 450 were accepted, many who were switchboard operators from what would become AT&T. They were sworn into the U.S. Army Signal Corps, completed their Signal Corps training at Camp Franklin (now a part of Fort Meade), sworn into service and headed to France in March of 1918. Officially, they were known as the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit. Under the lead of Chief Operator Grace Banker, left for Europe in March 1918. Members of this unit were soon operating telephones in many exchanges of the American Expeditionary Forces in Paris, Chaumont and 75 other places in France.
Although the women of the Signal Corps has an official name, they soon became known as the “Hello Girls.” Beyond the service they provided with communications, their voices undoubtedly brought a touch of home to the soldiers. Despite the fact that they wore U.S. Army Uniforms and were subject to Army Regulations (Chief Operator Grace Banker received the Distinguished Service Medal), the Hello Girls were not given honorable discharges. They were considered "civilians" employed by the military, because Army Regulations specified the male gender. Not until 1978, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War I, did Congress approve Veteran Status/Honorable discharges for the remaining Hello Girls.
Lois Sprengnether Keel has a wonderful blog about the Hello Girls, much of it gleaned from the Bell Telephone News. Here’s a link to it: http://www.storytellingresearchlois.com/search/label/Hello%20Girls
Lois also highly recommends a video created by Ann Arbor historian, Dennis Skupinski: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohOde0k2y9M
Lois contacted the Hillsdale County Historical Society with her information because two of the Hello Girls came from Hillsdale County. We are grateful to her for reaching out to us. You can read about our own World War I Hello Girls.