Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Hello Girls - Switchboard Soldiers

During the first world war, General "Black Jack" Pershing did not like the telephones lines in France. After being in use for three years by the French before the United States entered the war he needed a better communication system. The United States Army advertised in the U.S. newspapers for bilingual telephone operators. They had to speak fluent French and English and have operator experience. Over 7,000 women applied and 223 ended up being accepted, trained and sent overseas. They were members of the U.S. Army Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit.

The 3rd Unit's Chief Operator was Nellie F. Snow of Lowell. She was the Chief Operator of the Lowell Telephone Exchange at 115 Appleton Street (now the sober Lowell House). She conducted training in the Lowell for the other women of her unit. The other local woman who went to France in various contingents were Yvonne Gauthier, Leontine LaMoureaux (later Mrs. James O'Connor), Eugenie Racicot and Olive Shaw.
Boston Globe - April 7, 1918

They were sworn in and  had to buy their own uniforms. They went to New York City and boarded a transport ship filled with male soldiers and sailed to France. They arrived in Paris in May of 1918. They were critical to the war effort by providing translation services and some actually went to the front.
Boston Globe - July 5, 1919

After the war many of the woman stayed in France to provide their services to the peace time activities. They were considered the first active duty women to serve in the U.S. Army. Sadly, the U.S. Army did not award the the Victory Medal or any service related bonuses. They said that they were civilian contractors. They fought this until finally in 1979 when the 18 surviving woman were awarded the Victory Medal and veteran's pension benefits as approved by Congress.

  • Yvonne Gauthier died March 19, 1965 and is buried in St. Joseph's Cemetery in Chelmsford. She never married.
  • Leontine LaMoureax married James R. O'Connor and had a son Richard. She died in February of 1984 and is buried in St. Patrick's Cemetery.
  • Eugenie Racicot died July 14, 1979  is buried in St. Patrick's Cemetery. She never married.
  • Olive Shaw of Boston was the personal secretary in Washington, DC to Edith Nourse Rogers. She retired to Littleton, MA. She was awarded the Victory Medal in 1979. She was divorced. She is the first military burial at the National Cemetery in Bourne, MA on October 14, 1980 in section 1, grave 1.
  • Nellie F. Snow, Chief Operator died in January 1963. I don't know where she is buried but her parents are buried in Edson Cemetery. She never married.
 Thank you for your service to our country. These talented and brave women did so much more than "number please?"