Friday, April 15, 2016

The "Hello" Girls of WWI

History of the Signal Corp Female Telephone Operators Unit

Although the term 'Hello Girls' was used by the Signal Corps, it did not originate there. It had been the common name used for switchboard operators who would say "hello" when you rang the switch as opposed to calling direct.The earliest reference to Hello Girls is in Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court written in 1889. 

The history of the Signal Corp "Hello Girls" begins in late 1917 when General Pershing made his emergency appeal for bilingual telephone switchboard operators. Published in newspapers throughout the United States, it specifically sought French-speaking American women who held the position of switchboard operator in the new Bell Telephone Company.

Pershing wanted women because, as he stated, they have the patience and perseverance to do long, arduous detailed work. He had found that men in the Signal Corps had difficulty operating the switchboards for these reasons. He also wanted men to be in the field stringing wire necessary for communication from the trenches to the A.E.F. GHQ at Chaumont. It was the first time in the history of warfare that soldiers in the front-lines were connected to the General command.

Over 7,000 American women applied. There were few, however, among the 700 volunteers throughout Bell Telephone, who spoke French. In selecting the first 300, the age requirement and even the switchboard training was waived. Married women were accepted if not married to anyone serving overseas.

After being sworn into the U.S. Army, they began their Signal Corps training at Camp Franklin, now a part of Fort George G. Meade in Maryland. They were given the same status as nurses and were subject to all Army regulations, including Court-Martial, with ten extra regulations placed on them to assure their moral character. They had the rank of lieutenant and had to buy their own uniforms.

The first operators left for Europe in March 1918, under the lead of Chief Operator Grace Banker. Members of this unit were soon operating telephones in many exchanges of the American Expeditionary Forces in Paris, Chaumont and seventy-five other French locations as well as British locations in London, Southampton and Winchester.

Because they were considered civilians employees of the military, they were not given honorable discharges because Army regulations specified the male gender. In 1978, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War I, Congress approved Veteran Status/Honorable discharges for the remaining Signal Corp Hello Girls. For the seventy women still alive, there was nation-wide coverage in the newspaper. Each was visited by a General of the U.S. Army and handed her Honorable Discharge in a ceremony at her home.

WWI Motor Corp of America

History of the Motor Corp of America

In response to World War I women began to take on new responsibilities in the war effort. The MotorCorps of America provided the opportunity for women to learn to drive and maintain vehicles. Here we see buttons and signage from a New York City Motor Corps volunteer named Dorothea Harnecker, donated to the City Museum by her daughter Mrs. Beatrice Stone.

The Motor Corps of America was a volunteer effort established by the National League of Women’s Services and the Red Cross. The organization provided transportation and ambulatory services to military personnel. The Motor Corps was one of the most demanding divisions of the league and required a chauffeur’s license, mechanic’s license, and many hours of training.

Continue reading at the Museum of the City of New York site by clicking HERE.

The "Marinettes" of WWI

History of the Marinettes

Faced with manpower shortages in 1918, Major General Commandant George Barnett asked the Secretary of the Navy's permission to enlist women for clerical duties during World War I. The first woman to enroll in the Marines was Opha Mae Johnson on 13 August 1918. 305 more women joined, serving only in the United States. At the end of the war, they left the Marine Corps to return to domestic life.

Marine Corp Reservist (F) was the only official title by which the Corps first enlisted women were known, however, throughout the duration of their service many nicknames were coined to identify them. On the occasion of their first official visit to Quantico on 21 November 1918, Corporal Elizabeth Shoemaker heard the title 'Lady Hell Cats' used for the first time when an enthusiastic marine shouted it from the crowd as they marched by.

During a party planned for the women that same evening, Corporal Shoemaker recalled overhearing one disgruntled young Marine telling his buddies: "This is a fallen outfit when they start enlisting skirts," hence 'Skirt Marines' was added to the growing list. But the most popular and most widely used of all the nicknames was 'Marinette'. 

"The United States Marine Corps frowned upon the use of the word 'Marinette'," remembered Corporal Avadney Hea, "they posted notices every once in a while on the bulletin board, that we were not to be referred to as 'Marinettes'. We were United States Marine Corps reservists with (F) after it, indicating female. We were not to be called 'Marinettes'. The Marine Corps didn't like it."

In spite of that fact, however, many people still refer to the Marine Reserves (F) as Marinettes.
Marine Reservists (F) pose for a photograph at Headquarters,
Marine Corp, Washington, DC in 1918.
(Photo: Marine Reserve/Marine Corps Archives)
Click HERE to read Women Marines in World War I.
Click HERE to read about Opha Mae Johnson.