This Day in History September 1, 1878

By Ruth on September 1, 2012 in history, telephone
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Telephone girl
By Deasington (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s feature commemorates something that has largely become a thing of the past.  On this date in 1878, Emma Mills Nutt became the first female telephone operator.  In January of 1878, the Boston Telephone Dispatch Company had been hiring boys to act as operators. The problem was the these boys had no patience with customers, and they often indiscriminately cursed and played pranks.  So Emma was hired, and a few hours later her sister, Stella Nutt was hired.  Though Stella remained only a few years, Emma remained an operator at least until 1911 (possibly 1915).  

Customers much preferred the female operators, and before long boys were completely replaced as operators.  From what I could learn, telephone operators had to be unmarried (makes sense) and between the ages of 17 and and 26.  Emma reportedly worked for a salary of $10/month for 54 hours a week.  It is also said that she could remember every number in the directory of the New England Telephone Company.

This day and age, we get a recording instead of a live operator if we even happen to make a phone call. And it is rare for us to even memorize phone numbers any more since we don’t need to.  After all, we only need a cell phone with its directory, right?

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