No one will be surprised to discover that slanguage has come and gone throughout the decades. Browsing our favorite historic newspaper site we stumbled upon this little newsbit which referenced, “everyone’s favorite Hello Girl.” Hmmm, a Hello Girl? We were not quite sure what exactly she was, but given that this is a family blog we’ll assume that it is something respectable.
A further search and our friend google leads me to believe that this is not such a mystery after all. Some among our readership probably know exactly what she was. I’m confident that there were probably more than one Hello Girl in the families of our readership. It’s actually quite clear. It’s the “girl” who says “hello” when you dial a phone.
When Bell Telephone first started to hire operators, they hired teenaged messenger boys. They swiftly found that they were often rude and unruly, so they quickly began to hire young women. Young women, not surprisingly, were more reliable, more pleasant and naturally more polite. Also, the women’s voices were higher, so they carried better through the new ether of electronics.
The first Hello Girl was hired because her neighbor thought she was a ‘nice girl’. While being nice, pleasant and ‘having quick hands” were job qualifications, the job included knowing a variety of information – such as the names and addresses of local customers,the time of day, the latest news, weather, and sports results and of course gossip! Operators in remote locations had to take on a variety of tasks, testing trunk lines, and reporting repairs, splicing cables or adjusting a lightning arrester. According to one New York City operator, she did “every kind of telephone work except climbing a pole.”
“The Voice with a Smile” was being replaced by New York Telephone by 1919. The invention of automatic systems or “girl-less, cuss-less telephone,” as one inventor referred to it, began to take hold. For a nickel you could get connected automatically to your party, by use of a dial. This new fangled development took a while to drift out to all areas. It started our obsession with trying to remember long strings of numbers.
The dial started just for local calls. To make long-distance calls, as better and better technology now allowed, required one to dial Zero for the operator, then ask for a Long Distance Operator – so, a Hello World Girl, if you will. Even as direct distance dialing with Area Codes became commonplace, it would still be necessary for many years to talk to an Overseas Operator to make your call to family in the old country.
Oh, and lest we forget, long distance and international calls used to be very, very expensive. If time permitted, you just wrote letters. But if you did call, at least you got to speak to a nice girl.