Hello Girls congressional gold medal
- Published: Jul 26, 2018, 10 AM
Legislation was introduced June 26 seeking a congressional gold medal to collectively recognize the World War I contributions of the women of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, nicknamed the Hello Girls.
The women, all of them bilingual, are credited with improving U.S. military communications in France.
The bipartisan legislation, S. 3136, was jointly introduced by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.
After introduction, the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.
The Hello Girls were recruited to connect calls quickly between male U.S. infantrymen and their French counterparts.
General of the Armies John “Black Jack” Pershing, as head of the American Expeditionary Forces, carried telephone equipment with him to Europe believing it would provide a communications advantage over the enemy.
But the AEF struggled between May and November 1917 to make the communications work efficiently. It took monolingual infantrymen 60 seconds to connect a call between U.S. and French forces, while it took the bilingual Hello Girls only 10.
Eighty-five percent of the telephone operators in the United States were women; 7,600 of them applied for the 100 positions Pershing requested through the War Department. Each of the 100 was provided uniforms and the same allowance as Army nurses.
The first Hello Girls took the military oath on Jan. 15, 1918, and were considered “full -fledged soldier(s) under the articles of war,” according to the proposed legislation seeking the congressional gold medal.
Eventually, a total of 223 female operators served in France, where they connected 26 million calls for the AEF.
In 1919, Chief Operator Grace Banker received a Distinguished Service Medal. Out of 16,000 Signal Corps officers eligible, Banker was one of only 18 individuals so honored.
Despite their contributions to the war effort after taking the military oath, the women were denied veteran status and benefits when they returned to American soil.
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The Hello Girls served at military headquarters and command outposts in the field alongside soldiers from the American Expeditionary forces in France.
In 1977, six decades after the first Hello Girl took the military oath, Congress passed legislation acknowledging the service of the women in the U.S. Army Signal Corps.
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