The History of Telephone Operators, Part I

Posted on July 22, 2020

by Mary Hedge

As our library prepares its recently acquired building for library services, you may be interested to discover what it was like to be a telephone operator before and during the time the building was used for telephone business. Here is Part I.

The job of telephone operator, or “hello girl” as it was nicknamed, has changed greatly since the telephone was invented in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell. The first telephone operators were teenaged boys. The first boy was hired in January 1878. However, boys could be unruly, noisy, rude, and profane and would even pull practical jokes and have wrestling matches while on the job. So the idea of using “girls” came up. Bell hired Emma Nutt on September 1, 1878, in Boston and a few hours later her sister Stella was also hired. They were patient and polite women and had to stand 10 hours a day on the job. The pay was $10 a month. Emma kept her job for 30 years.

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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