WWI switchboard operators subject of Zoom presentation

Staff Reports

Led by 25-year-old Grace Banker, 32 telephone operators — affectionately called “Hello Girls” back in the United States — became the first female combatants in World War I.

It’s all in author Claudia Friddell’s children’s book, “Grace Banker and Her Hello Girls Answer the Call” — and it will be the focus of a Zoom presentation at 6 p.m. Nov. 11 via the Bartholomew County Public Library.

Friddell will help viewers and listeners follow Grace Banker’s journey from her busy life as a telephone switchboard trainer in New York to her pioneering role as the chief operator of the 1st Unit of World War I telephone operators in the battlefields of France.

Here’s part of the book’s description from the writer’s website: “With expert skill, steady nerves, and steadfast loyalty, the Signal Corps operators transferred orders from commanders to battlefields and communicated top-secret messages between American and French headquarters during the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne Offensives.”

A reviewer from Booklist wrote, “Recounted with the same plucky spirit as its heroine, this picture-book biography of Grace Banker is a heartening story of grit, charm, and bravery.” After faithfully serving her country, undaunted by freezing weather and fires, long hours and little sleep, and nearby shellings and far-off explosions, Banker was the first and only woman operator in the Signal Corps to be awarded the Army’s Distinguished Service Medal.

Friddell will share her and her illustrator’s research on these WW I switchboard operators.

Even though they served in the military, at war’s end, they were denied honorable discharge papers. Sixty years after the end of WW I, the Hello Girls were finally recognized as veterans. A bill is currently making its way through Congress, for the third time, to award the Hello Girls the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor.

Friddell will read passages from her book, including the diary of Grace Banker, provide more background on the Hello Girls, and answer questions. Register at mybcpl.org for the Zoom link.