History of the Telephone Workers, Part 3

Posted on August 26, 2020

by Mary Hedge

In 1900, the pay was $7 a week.  This was for 11-hour shifts 6 days a week.  Some women worked two shifts a day with a three-hour unpaid break.  In small towns and rural areas, work was usually done from homes for 24 hours a day.  Besides “hello girls,” operators were also called “call girls” and “The Voice with a Smile.”  They were heroines in the time of disaster, comfort to the lonely and afraid, and a polite voice to often grouchy customers.  Speaking to each other while on the job was not allowed, and they had to sit with perfect posture and maintain a pleasant demeanor.  It was a high-pressure job with intensive supervision and military-like discipline.  It required concentration, dexterity, and accuracy.  An operator would get to know her 50-100 assigned customers and give them personal service.  If a party didn’t answer, she would try to find them around town and if not, she would call them later.  She would summon police or doctors and even give wake up calls and the time of day.  She was a source of news, including weather and sports results.  Work became more hectic as more customers signed up.  By 1910, operators couldn’t take their eyes off their switchboard.  Some businesses had “retiring rooms” for women who felt unwell or needed a break.

Mary Hedge

Mary Hedge

Mary is a Public Services Librarian. She enjoys helping people find the information they need, including family and local history searches. Also, she serves as the director of READ La Porte County, Inc., plays the organ for a church, and enjoys traveling.
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