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World War I Hello Girls

During WWI, the United States War Department hired female switchboard operators to accompany the American Expeditionary Forces to Europe. These women had to be fluent in French and English and preferably have previous switchboard experience. Their job was to connect important calls, translate information, and communicate command orders. They were known as “Hello Girls” and often worked in dangerous conditions and on the front lines. The “Hello Girls” earned the respect of soldiers and military leaders, yet following the war, officials denied them veteran status, bonuses, and hospitalization for disabilities. More than 100 years later, an effort to right this wrong is underway. In 2021, legislation was introduced to award a single Congressional Gold Medal to the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit.

Hello Girls operate a switchboard in Chaumont, France

In the years leading up to WWI, the fight for suffrage gained momentum. Those opposed to enfranchising women argued that giving women the right to vote would disrupt the moral fiber of society. They also argued that since women couldn’t fight as soldiers, the right to vote belonged to men who could.

Hello Girls

As military leaders geared up for war, telephone technology also gained momentum. The telephone played a critical part in military strategy. Wires ran through trenches allowing military officials to communicate with soldiers on the ground while keeping a bird’s eye view of the battle. It was women, however, that were masters of this technology. When information needed relaying quickly, a “Hello Girl” could connect a call in about 10 seconds, while men from the Signal Corps often took a full minute. At the direction of General John J. Pershing, a call went out for the Signal Corps to hire female telephone operators. More than 7,000 women expressed interest in the job. Ultimately, 223 went to Europe. They were issued military uniforms and took the Army oath. They were the first female soldiers deployed to a combat zone. However, some officials still considered them civilian employees.  

The first contingent of “Hello Girls” arrived in France in March 1918. They soon found themselves working on the front lines, where they endured the constant threat of shells, shrapnel, gassing, and sicknesses like the Spanish flu (which eventually claimed the lives of two “Hello Girls”). The women worked long and exhausting hours. Nevertheless, when their shifts ended, they could often be found visiting the sick and injured in field hospitals.

Hello Girls Arrive in France

The “Hello Girls” were among the first Americans to arrive in France and among the last to leave. After the Armistice, a contingent of “Hello Girls” moved to Paris to translate during peace proceedings. When the women finally returned to the United States, they were denied discharge papers and not recognized as veterans. Ironically, other women who served as nurses, secretaries, or clerks did receive veteran status. The work of the “Hello Girls” impressed President Woodrow Wilson and helped change his mind about the suffrage movement. On June 4, 1919, the 19th amendment passed that gave women the right to vote.  

In the decades following WWI, Congress introduced many bills to give the “Hello Girls” proper recognition. Finally, in 1977, a bill was passed recognizing them as veterans. Three of the surviving “Hello Girls” received honorable discharges in a special ceremony in 1979.

In 2021, the House and Senate introduced bipartisan legislation to award the “Hello Girls” a single Congressional Gold Medal in honor of their service, devotion, the 60-year struggle for veterans’ benefits, and recognition as soldiers. The bill’s sponsors are currently hoping to gain enough support to bring the bill up for a vote. If you would like to learn more about the “Hello Girls,” search Fold3® today!


  1. Lee Scruggs says:

    WOW! I didn’t know about the “Hello Girls” until I read this article. I read a lot of historical fiction, but nothing has ever been mentioned in any of the books I have read. Thank you for bringing these brave women to my attention. Glad the unit finally got the recognition that they duly deserved!

    • ADAM says:

      It’s well past time that these brave women get the recognition that they deserve. I’d never heard of them, either. Unlike the men, they weren’t being conscripted, they went into these dangerous jobs on their own free will. The Federal Government was perfectly horrible to them after the war.

    • Lana Avera says:

      Hi, Lee —

      I am Sam Avera’s wife. Sorry to say that he passed away on July 31, 2009 due to many complications from Agent Orange. Just wanted to say hello after recognizing your name. Hope you are well and enjoying retirement!

    • Patsy says:

      I’m a WWII baby but have read a lot of both WWI & WWII history. This is the first time I’ve heard about the Hello Girls. The prejudice against women at that time was still strong annd, unfortunately, prejudice still thrives today in our country. I was from a small town, nieve and scared and only 17yrs old when I graduated. I went to the recruiters and talked to them. One asked me why a nice girl like me wanted to go into the military . I was aquiet, rarely heard from wallflower, but I got angry. I told him that most of the women who joined the military were not bad, they were like me — from struggling families and didn’t plan on living off of their parents. I added that it was men like him that made them into”bad girls”.
      That was during the Vietnam conflict. over the years including War of 1812, and the Civil War many volunteers have been women and other minorities. Most have never been recognized. I’ve often wondered how many have given their lives – and never been recognized. I wonder how many students in today’s schools don’t know that during WWII the Native American language saved a multitude of our soldiers because the Germans couldn’t translate it. In fact, I wonder if the schools are teaching the students that the past will repeat itself unless we work to prevent it.
      Thanks for helping bring attention to the Hello Girls.

    • Sharon says:

      I’d found a record where my great great aunt was a hello girl. I am so proud of her!

    • Jl Larson says:

      Go onto amazon prime and watch movie
      “The Hello Girls”…. Tells of their 40-50yr journey to be recognized as Army Veterans!!!

  2. Ann Kelsey says:

    The Hello Girls are not the only civilian women whose wartime service has been ignored for years. The WASPs, Women Overseas Service Pilots, in World War II suffered a similar fate with overdue recognition of veteran status only occurring many years later.

    As a civilian employee of the Army who served in Vietnam, I applaud efforts to properly recognize these women, but it is shameful that by the time they were awarded Veteran status and benefits, it was too late for most of them. They were dead!

  3. Shawn Murphy says:

    My goodness another example of buried history finally coming to light!!! I pride myself in my study of history and really appreciate the opportunity to learn what I don’t already know.

    Thank you very much for sharing regarding their valued service!

  4. alex says:

    wilson also gave us the federal reserve,you see where that got us!!

    • Ron Oliver says:

      As a moderate true Republican with majors in both Economics and History, I can tell you the we are a lot better off with the Federal Reserve than without it.

    • Don Blanchard says:

      I agree. The federal reserve has not worked well.

  5. Linda Johnson says:

    Also, what is not mentioned is that many of the “Hello Girls” were African American – double discrimination!

  6. Virgil M.Seaber Jr says:

    Thanks for informing us about “the Hello Girls” and te many who served and well deserve the over due recognition!!

  7. Jan Donoho says:

    Long past time for their recognition! GOOD JOB girls !! Listen up guys-they worked & served by choice maybe more than you did.

  8. Chris Norman says:

    There is some imprecise information in this blog post. The 1977 legislation that granted veteran status to the WASPS also awarded veteran status to the female Stenographers of the AEF, other female employees of the AEF, and the Hello Girls. In actuality, for the Army only Nurses were recognized with veteran status at the end of the war, other female Army employees were not — until 1977. Perhaps inconsistently, female US Navy “Yeoman (F)” and USMC “Marine (F)” actually were granted veteran status immediately post war. Speaking of Army Nurses, they, not the Signal Corps Telephone Operators were the first female soldiers deployed to a war zone. Some brave Army nurses served under fire as early as the Spanish American War. So in short, the “wrong” at the top of the article was legally righted in 1977, Army Nurses were the first women soldiers to serve in a war zone, and Finally, the “Hello Girls” were not uniquely discriminated against, Army female; Stenographers, Dietitians, and Rehabilitation Aides were also denied proper recognition. No doubt all these women earned far greater recognition than they received, and the Congressional Gold Medal is long overdue.

    • Dennis Wolnick says:

      Thanks Chris Norman for the extra details you provide regarding all the women who served the country in WW I I and were only recognized vey much later. I guess better late than never for recognition like this. Still, I just hope, as a society, we don’t continue making omissions in recognizing groups regardless of gender, ethnic group and yes, race, who step forward and risk their lives for their country, community and family.

    • Carolyn Elliott says:

      Thanks for the information.

  9. Robert O Randle says:

    I believe pension reparations are due to the families of these women now.

  10. Deborah Dial says:

    This is a great program, we had a speaker address this in a DAR meeting.

  11. Mary Nelson says:

    Race and gender should never play a part in human rights. Until these factors are eliminated some humans will always be fighting. One kind should never determine the path of others. Why should these factors affect who we are when we all were created from Adam and Eve.

  12. Janet Larson says:

    My Grandmother, Marie S.A. LeBlanc was a Hello Girl. We donated her uniform to the Ft. Lewis (Joint Base McChord/Lewis) Military Museum. Merle Anderson was a close friend of her’s with whom she fought to be recognized. My grandmother died Oct. 17, 1975 two years before they were recognized. Marie S.A. LeBlanc Drumm

    • Rose Humbert says:

      Hi Janet, I noticed you seem to use Drumm as your last name. This is my gggrandfather’s last name. Abner and Lydia Drumm had the 170th land donation claim in Oregon near Salem. Was wondering if we are related. Very unusual to see Drumm with the double mms.

    • Janet Larson says:

      Hello Rose. My grandfather was Otto C. Drumm. He grew up in Tacoma, Washington but a good portion of his relatives lived in the Denver area. My great grandfather Otto Drumm immigrated from the Heidelberg area of Germany. He was in WW1 as a telephone lineman, and on occasion they would go into Paris to work on the phone systems where he met my Grandmother who was a telephone operator!!!

    • Christine Hodges says:

      God bless your grandmother and all the women who served with her as Hello Girls

    • J. Larson says:

      Thank you… She grew up in New Hampshire near Montreal – so people in their town spoke a lot of French, so being bilingual they accepted her. the nice thing is that she saved everything, so it’s nice to have all her documents, uniforms etc….

  13. stu brown says:

    This reminds me of Katherine Johnson, and the other black lady mathematicians who went unrecognized doing the key calculations for the NASA space programs during the 60s and 70s. If you read the book or saw the movie (Hidden Figures) about them, remember the other engineers (white men) did not want the public to know who kept the astronauts out of trouble. Unlike the Hello Girls, their lives were not in danger, but they were unrecognized until recently.

    • Nora Tymecki says:

      I just watched the movie on youtube about Katherine a couple of weeks ago…..This woman was a “BRILLIANT” mathematician.

  14. Linda Steele says:

    Thank you for the information. I had absolutely no idea about these women and their brave contributions to our country. How sad that the way they were treated by our government was one more stain on our history!

  15. Barbara Fanucchi says:

    I enjoyed this very interesting article and had no idea “Hello Girls” even existed!!!
    Also enjoyed the different comments! Thanks so very much and God Bless these and all the women since who have served.

  16. Linda Schuyler Ford says:

    Eloise Schoettler is a skilled and talented writer, performing storyteller who offers a fabulous show about the Hello Girls.

  17. W.E.Feeman,Jr,MD says:

    I had never heard of “hello girls” before now. They deserve recognition and a gold medal for the group is LONG OVERDUE!!

  18. It is so wonderful that you enlighten this topic because I think that it is really important to be aware of WWI in detail and in full measures, knowing about all events that took place in this period. To tell the truth, before this moment I had no idea about the existence of “Hello Girls”, but you were able to blow my mind. It was absolutely incredible and it confirms that women perform a really significant function in our world, being irreplaceable and so skillful. They performed such a difficult, but unique activity and it is difficult to imagine how WWI would go without them and their labour. The fact that following the war, officials denied them veteran status, bonuses, and hospitalization for disabilities shocks me because it is inhuman and I can’t find an explanation or justification of it. I think that this women deserves due respect and recognition.

  19. Gordon Sinclair says:

    Actually, over here, fiber is spelt ‘fibre’ … just saying, like …

  20. Margaret G. Travis says:

    It isn’t the least bit surprising they haven’t been recognized because the majority of congress
    people are men. They have been trying to hold women back ever since Adam and Eve.

  21. I would love to see a listing of those women who served our country as “Hello Girls”. I’m sure there are many that never knew that one or two of their ancestors may have been a “Hello Girl”. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful bit of information for their family tree.

  22. I would love to see a listing of those women who served our country as “Hello Girls”. I’m sure there are several that never knew and wouldn’t it be wonderful information to add to your “family tree”.

  23. Terisa Mott says:

    My grandfathers aunt was a Yeoman F before WWI I have a picture of her in a uniform with a radio patch , I gave a picture of her to the WWI War Memorial in Kansas City, I have never been able to find out how she came to be recruited for this or what she actually did or where she was assigned. No one I have found at the Women’s Memorial has any information on this either. The museum did tell me what the patch looked like.

  24. Joanne Davies says:

    Wow! I had never heard of these women before reading this post! Thank you for sharing and bringing them to our attention. Now they are known, they and their service shall not be forgotten.

  25. Steve says:

    And the workers in the defense plants, and the workers feeding and supporting those workers, and the volunteer costal watchers, and the oil refinery workers, and the merchant and civilian marines, and the code breakers, and the shipyard workers, and the childcare workers, and the miners, and the railway workers,

  26. Jerry Dehay says:

    Thanks for providing some very important historical information that most people have never heard of. This needs to be among a lot of other historical details that should be taught at some point in our education system.

    • BettyH says:

      Thank you, Jerry, for also bringing that to our attention — as I was thinking of my Mom working in produce factories and fields thinning, sorting vegetables/fruits, as seasonal employees and men were not available, and ALL WOMEN were expected to work as men, as they needed to support their families. Did they get the same pay as men? Of course NOT! And when/if the men returned, the women who felt like they had contributed were not recognized as anything but women — lower class! (And truly, I am speaking of WWII rather than WWI.) I am ecstatic about the “Hello Girls” and can only imagine their huge contributions in World War I — and as happy to know that at least 50% were African American. And Stu Brown mentioning the huge contributions of the Black ladies using their skills as mathemeticians/calculations, keeping NASA safe as well as our Astronauts!!! KUDOS TO ALL!!!

  27. Elizabeth Blackwell - High Desert Chapter NSDAR says:

    Wyoming had only one “Hello Girl” – Anna Maria Swanson. Through the efforts of Sen. Barrasso, 2 Wyoming DAR chapters, and American Legion Post 8, we were able to get a VA marker with her US Signal Corps information on it and it will be placed this spring with a multi-agency ceremony at her cemetery in Casper.

    • betty j hicks says:

      Wonderful news and congratulations to your DAR chapter. I am a DAR member in the Ocklawaha Chapter in Central Florida. I’ll have to check to see if we know of any of these ladies.

  28. DALE SHAMP says:

    Too bad men ruled society at the time.
    These ladies should have received benefits
    and not just be thrown under the cart.

  29. Roland Cousins says:

    What a great story in history that I knew nothing about until today. Thanks for everyone sharing.

  30. Thank you for the information. I did not know about the “Hello Girls.” I will continue to pass on the information to my students. This will keep their dedication, work and inspiration alive in their minds and hearts.

  31. Susan Sorg says:

    I had never heard about the Hello Girls before now, but truly loved reading about them. Thank you for sharing this little-known fact. My grandmother was a telephone operator in Ohio from 1915 to 1918. I’ll bet if she had the opportunity (and didn’t have toddlers at that time) she would have jumped on this in a heartbeat!

  32. Roberta kipper says:

    During the pandemic the WWI museum here in KC did regular presentations. These ladies were the subject. I bought the book. It seems that one of the leaders of this group was taken by the flue while in Europe.

  33. Stewart Hickman says:

    “Hello Girls of World War I”

    On November 8, 1917, General Pershing cabled the War Department and wrote, “On account of the great difficulty of obtaining properly qualified men, request organization and dispatch to France a force of women telephone operators all speaking French and English equally well.”

    To begin, General Pershing requested 100 women under the command of a commissioned captain, writing that “All should have allowances of Army nurses and should be uniformed.”

    The War Department sent press releases to newspapers across the United States to recruit women willing to serve for the war duration and face submarine warfare and aerial bombardment hazards.

    These articles emphasized that patriotic women would be “full-fledged soldier[s] under the articles of war” and would “do as much to help win the war as the men in khaki who go ‘over the top.'”. All women selected would take the Army oath.

  34. Betty Glaz says:

    Women are left out of history books.

  35. Ann Marie Bouchet says:

    This is an amazing article. I, too read alot of history, and find it appalling that I had never heard of these women. Their patriotism and bravery was completely ignored until
    almost all of them were gone. I would love to find a copy of the book
    mentioned and learn more.

  36. Cathleen Dornon says:

    I hope that part of honoring this women with a single medal also involves locating their graves and offering to put a medal on their stone to identify their service. And I hope that the military offers to place a stone for any unmarked graves; that is sometimes a cost a family could not bear and yet the military offers ALL vets a plot and a simple stone in a veteran’s cemetery.

  37. Patti Moore Zapalac says:

    My grandmother Marie Gagnon was in the first group of the Hello Girls to arrive in France. She and several of her fellow operators were recognized for there bravery during the war. They were at their positions when their building was on fire – they refused to leave and continued to do their job. I have her commendation and am very proud to be her grand daughter.

  38. Joan W. Doak says:

    I had never heard of “Hello Girls” until this message. Yes, I believe that most women have not been recognized for their heroic efforts for America’s benefit. Isn’t that a shame? I’m not a women’s libber, but certainly believe that It doesn’t take certain “body parts” to contribute, save, and work hard in hazardous situations, to earn accommodations! No, women are not “out there” for the glory, but for the satisfaction that their efforts DO make a difference! Their gentleness and grit, the understanding and compassion have been given without rewards, expected. How would one get a listing of the Hello Girls, so that our local Historical Society could give these deserving women a listing, medal, or recognition? We are so proud of your untiring efforts, ladies!

    • Nishiki C. says:

      I wonder what you mean by “not a women’s libber”? If not for the “women’s libbers”, we might still not have the right to vote, property rights, citizenship on our own account (remember, it used to be all about the husband’s status), the ability to choose any course of study or profession, have one’s own financial accounts, recognition for military (even volunteer) service;
      still being told to “come back with your husband” when shopping for an appliance or a condo (both of which I have experienced); a single mother being told by a teacher, “Well, if you CHOOSE to work…”, still being passed over for a raise or promotion because the competing male “has a family to support” (oh, wait, that still happens), rape victims being blamed for being attacked…….Do I need to go on? Hundreds of large and small discriminations and injustices, and immoral acts have been called out and, some eliminated, due to “women’s libbers”.

    • Cathleen Dornon says:

      YES! Hooray for our strong sisters who lead the fight for all women to have equal rights.

  39. These “Hello Girls” were very essential in WWI
    So glad they are being recognized for their efforts!

  40. Rhea Hunter - Amos Kendall NSDAR Chapter says:

    There is an excellent book that was published in 2017 – called “The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers” by: Elizabeth Cobbs. Elizabeth had apparently unearthed the original letters and diaries of many of these women and interwove them and photos into this book. One such photo showed a fire that engulfed the wooden Signal Corps barracks when a German POW overturned a stove. Operators KEPT the lines open to the Front until the last second, while soldiers rescue personal belongings. It is a shame all these women have passed away without proper recognition and veteran benefits.

  41. FJ Davenport says:

    Never knew about the “Hello Girls”. Wish I had, that would have given me an opportunity to talk to my husband’s uncle, since he was WWI veteran. We were able to watch the documentary last night for free on Tubi.

  42. LTC Roger N Thomas CAP says:

    CAP “Civil Air Patrol” had all genders and races in service in WWII. Genuine unpaid volunteers some in Anti -Submarine combat. CAP has a history web site. Ceck it because I do not want to think of the 5+ decades it took to get recognized.

  43. Dorothy says:

    There is a very informative book out now Titled: “Code Girls” by Author Liza Mundy It is historically well written and has photos of some of the women. One woman remains alive and was 93, at the time the book was written. Most were moved to Washington DC during their service, several hundred in Virginia. They were also denied acknowledgement of their very important work during WWII.