The History of Telephone Operators, Part 2

Posted on August 12, 2020

by Mary Hedge

At the turn of the century, single women were joining the workforce in larger numbers.  The job of a telephone operator was an attractive alternative to factory, sweatshop, and maid work.  Women were preferred for the job not only because they were seen to be more courteous and polite and were faster, but also because they could be hired for one half to one-fourth of a man’s salary. No special skills were required prior to work.  However, other strict restrictions had to be met.  Immigrants, Jews, and African Americans could not be hired.  There were height, weight, and arm length tests.  Women had to be at least five feet tall and their arms had to be long enough to reach the switchboard.   They also had to be 17-26 years old, unmarried, and dress to look prim and proper.  If they had an accent, they most likely would not be hired.  Diction lessons and elocution classes were offered on the job.  They also got training in the switchboard technique and deportment.  However, the women could not rise in this sector, they were stuck in the position.

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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