Saturday, September 01, 2007

Number, Please

In the beginning of telephone operators, before there were dials, operators were needed to connect the caller with the called. The operators were teenage boys -- and they were known to be rude and unruly. Can you imagine? Teenage boys, rude?

On September 1, 1898, Emma McNutt (also known as Emma M. Nutt) was hired as the first female telephone operator.

Young women, whose employment opportunities in the 1880's were limited at best, became eligible to connect callers, dispense news, weather, sports and more, and test trunk lines and splice cable. But they were considered only if they were prim and proper, obedient, virtuous, and single. An operator could not be married and employed.

Emma started a trend. Operators were women. In the 40's, there were 350,000 telephone operators and they were women. My first regular job was as a switchboard operator, not with the phone company, but in a small, family-owned motel. I was a teenager, but I wasn't a rowdy boy, and I was always polite. The switchboard was a wall unit of holes that I connected with cabled plugs. It was kinda fun connecting with the plug and disconnecting by pulling the cable.

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