Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, November 27, 2023

The Hello Girls Need Your Support—Please Don't Hang Up!

We came over here to do our work and to give quick service and to help the boys a few miles ahead of us to get what they want and what we need to get, the Kaiser. (Hello Girl Letter)

Ready to Deploy: Trained Operators at Camp Dix, NJ

Readers of Roads to the Great War know that I have enjoyed telling the story of those 223 bilingual telephone operators who served in France in uniform and subject to military discipline but were not technically classified as members of the U.S. military. The "Signal Corps Telephone Operator Unit (Female)" was the first  unit of women to directly contribute to combat operations in American history.  [Check out our articles HERE and HERE, if you would like to learn more about them.] After the war, General Pershing—the man who had first  requested qualified, bilingual, female telephone operators—later wrote of their contribution to the victory:

No civil telephone service that ever came under my observation excelled with perfection as ours did after it was well established. The telephone girls in the AEF took great pains and pride in their work and did it with satisfaction to all. My Experiences in the World War

Hello Girls During the St. Mihiel Offensive
(Note the Gas Respirators and Helmets They Were Issued)

Nonetheless, the operators had not received the same treatment as the troops during or immediately after the war.  They had to buy their own uniforms and were not covered by war risk insurance policies, for example. Most shocking today is the fact they were not granted honorable discharges after their service.

Over the next 60 years, there were many efforts to gain those women full recognition as military veterans, but there was little success. Finally in 1977,  after a new wave of advocacy led by Hello Girl Merle Egan Anderson, President Jimmy Carter enacted the GI Bill Improvement Act of 1977 (P.L. 95-202) that granted the Hello Girls veterans status, benefits and receipt of the WWI Victory Medal. Only 18 of the operators who served in France were still alive at the time.

Nothing Says "You're Really in the Army" Like Standing Inspection for the Commanding General 

However, there is one last stumbling block to the full recognition for a service that was essential to America's victory in World War I. The U.S. World War I Centennial Commission is  attempting to get legislation through Congress to enact the Commission's last remaining recommendation to the Congress: the Award of a Congressional Gold Medal to the Hello Girls. The Gold Medal is awarded to impart the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions

There is a clear precedent for this legislation. On July 1, 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law Public Law 111–40, which awarded the WASPs (the female pilots who ferried aircraft to the war zones during WWII) the Congressional Gold Medal for their service to the United States.  Two earlier efforts at authorizing the same honor for the Hello Girls have failed to gain Congressional support. (Don't ask me why. I can't fathom it.)

The Centennial Commission by law will cease to exist on 30 September next year, so this is its last shot. Over the past decade I have been a proud partner in the Commission's efforts, and I'm bringing this matter to our readers' attention on behalf of the Commission.

Burial Site in France of Hello Girl Inez Ann Murphy
Crittenden, Who Died on the Last Day of the War of Influenza

I'm encouraging our readers to contact your Senators and Representatives and ask them to support the measure and become co-sponsors of the legislation, to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the female telephone operators of the Army Signal Corps, known as the "Hello Girls," (Senate bill, S.815 and House bill, H.R. 1572).

This can all be accomplished online, since all our Senators and Representatives have websites for receiving messages from their constituents. The Centennial Commission has simplified this process on their site for you.  Beginning on THIS PAGE you will be able to accomplish this by following the checklist they  provide and progressing through all the step right on their webpage. It will allow you to efficiently contact your Representative and both Senators to ask for their support of the legislation. I hope you will take this opportunity to support those who served and sacrificed in that war long ago and help them receive the posthumous honor they deserve.

This Newspaper Ad Said They Would Be "Civilian
Employees," But They Were a Critical Part of the AEF

1 comment:

  1. To this day the efforts and participation of America's women in WWI is not well-known nor well appreciated. For example, who were the first Rosies? As well, the ARC, the nurses, the Y and Salvation Army lassies and the subject of this piece, the super Hello Girls. And one of my favorites in entertainment, Elsie Janis.