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In the early days of telephony, companies used manual telephone switchboards, and switchboard operators connected calls by inserting a pair of phone plugs into the appropriate jacks. They were gradually phased out and replaced by automated systems, first those allowing direct dialing within a local area, then for long-distance and international direct dialing.

United States phone operator in 1911.

Emma Nutt became the first female telephone operator on 1 September 1878 when she started working for the Boston Telephone Dispatch company, because the attitude and behaviour of the teenage boys previously employed as operators was unacceptable.[4] Emma was hired by Alexander Graham Bell,[3] and reportedly, could remember every number in the telephone directory of the New England Telephone Company.[3][4] More women began to replace men within this sector of the workforce for several reasons. The companies observed that women were generally more courteous to callers, and women's labor was cheap in comparison to men's. Specifically, women were paid from one half to one quarter of a man's salary.[5]

Harriot Daley became the first telephone switchboard operator at the United States Capitol in 1898.[6][7][8]

Women of the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit, American bilingual female switchboard operators in World War I, were known colloquially as Hello Girls and were not formally recognized for their military service until 1978.

Julia O'Connor, a former telephone operator, led the Telephone Operators' Strike of 1919 and the Telephone Operators' Strike of 1923 against New England Telephone Company on behalf of the IBEW Telephone Operators' Department for better wages and working conditions.

Emma Nutt became the first female telephone operator on 1 September 1878 when she started working for the Boston Telephone Dispatch company, because the attitude and behaviour of the teenage boys previously employed as operators was unacceptable.[4] Emma was hired by Alexander Graham Bell,[3] and reportedly, could remember every number in the telephone directory of the New England Telephone Company.[3][4] More women began to replace men within this sector of the workforce for several reasons. The companies observed that women were generally more courteous to callers, and women's labor was cheap in comparison to men's. Specifically, women were paid from one half to one quarter of a man's salary.[5]

Harriot Daley became the first telephone switchboard operator at the United States Capitol in 1898.[6][7][8]

Women of the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit, American bilingual female switchboard operators in World War I, were known colloquially as Hello Girls and were not formally recognized for th

Harriot Daley became the first telephone switchboard operator at the United States Capitol in 1898.[6][7][8]

Women of the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit, American bilingual female switchboard operators in World War I, were known colloquially as Hello Girls and were not formally recognized for their military service until 1978.

Julia O'Connor, a former telephone operator, led the Telephone Operators' Strike of 1919 and the Telephone Operators' Strike of 1923 against New England Telephone Company on behalf of the IBEW Telephone Operators' Department for better wages and working conditions.[9][10][11] In the 1919 strike, after five days, Postmaster General Burleson agreed to negotiate an agreement between the union and the telephone company, resulting in an increase in pay for the operators and recognition of the right to bargain collectively.[12][13] However, the 1923 strike was called off after less than a month without achieving any of its goals.[14]

In the United States, any switchboard operator employed by an independently owned public telephone company which had not more than seven hundred and fifty stations was excluded from the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

In 1983, in Bryant Pond, Maine, Susan Glines became the last switchboard operator for a hand-crank phone when that exchange was converted;[15] manual central office switchboards continued in operation at rural points like Kerman, California,[16] and Wanaaring, New South Wales, as late as 1991, but these were central-battery systems with no hand-cranked magnetos.