Updated: Jan 12
THE HELLO GIRLS : AMERICA’S FIRST WOMEN SOLDIERS author- Elizabeth Cobbs”
“The Hello Girls’ Chronicles The Women Who Fought For America — And For Recognition!”
During World War I, some 223 members of the U.S. Army Signal Corps performed a highly specialized service which demanded great skill, nerve and tenacity: Over the vast network of telephone lines that had been hastily constructed across France, these soldiers worked the complicated switchboards connecting the ever-shifting front lines with vital supply depots and military command. At the height of the fighting, they connected over 150,000 calls per day!
“Stubborn pride, bureaucratic arrogance, and the belief that women simply did not merit recompense blinded senior staff officers to faceless female veterans.“ Elizabeth Cobbs
They had been specifically recruited for this task. They underwent physical training, they received medical examinations and inoculations, they swore the Army oath, they wore regulation uniforms and “identity discs” (akin to dogtags) to identify their remains. They observed strict military protocol, they were subject to court-martial, and many found themselves stationed a few short miles from the front during the bloodiest days of that very bloody war, at outposts that came under sustained mortar fire. General “Black Jack” Pershing, who had issued the call that caused so many of them to volunteer, singled them out for praise.
They were brave. They were resourceful. But when they returned home, they discovered to their dismay that, according to the United States government at least, there was one thing they most certainly were not: veterans.
They were the “Hello Girls” — a cadre of patriotic women who volunteered when the U.S. Army realized that the war would be won or lost on the Allies’ ability to exploit the new technology of telephone communication.
In the crisply written The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers, Elizabeth Cobbs details exactly what was asked of these women during the war, and reveals, with an authoritative, dispassionate, this-was-some-self-evident-nonsense lucidity, the dismaying extent to which their country failed them when it was over.
Because they were women, the Department of War denied them veteran status — including benefits, medical care, commendations, honorable discharges, military funerals, even the right to wear their uniforms. For 60 years they fought to be recognized for their service. Although this struggle is relegated to The Hello Girls‘ final chapter, the blunt matter-of-factness that marks Cobbs’ prose quietly slam-dunks her thesis: Stubborn pride, bureaucratic arrogance, and the belief that women simply did not merit recompense blinded senior staff officers to faceless female veterans.