'The Hello Girls' Tells the Story of Telephone Operators on the Frontlines of WWI

Jun 28, 2018

As we approach the centenniel anniversary of Armistice Day, there has been a growing conversation about the impact the first World War had on the U.S. and the world as a whole. Now celebrated as Veterans Day, the war famously ended at the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month in 1918. 

While the U.S. didn't enter the war until 1917, by the time the tensions ceased, more than 4 million American military personnel had been mobilized, including some of the first women to serve in the U.S. Army.  It's those women that filmmaker and Wisconsin native James Theres features in a new documentary screening on public television, called "The Hello Girls."

The Hello Girls were women who served as switchboard operators on the frontlines. Trenches were equipped with telephones, which enabled soldiers to send important messages from the front lines.  "This was a huge leap," explains Theres. "You have to remember, women didn't even the right to vote when these women went to war."

But although the Hello Girls were in the trenches alongside American soldiers, their military service wasn't officially recognized for another seven decades after they returned home. 

Filmmaker James Theres says he was inspired to make "The Hello Girls" when he first heard about their service. But the Racine-native learned about the group of switchboard operators from the early 20th century in a decidedly 21st century fashion - a Google search for any story on World War I, which yielded a link to Elizabeth Cobbs's book, The Hello Girls: America's First Women SoldiersCobbs cooperated with Theres in the making of the documentary.