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November 25, 2014

20 Vintage Photos of Women Telephone Operators at Work

In the early days of telephony, through roughly the 1960s, companies used manual telephone switchboards and switchboard operators connected calls by inserting a pair of phone plugs into the appropriate jacks. Each pair of plugs was part of a cord circuit with a switch associated that let the operator participate in the call.

Before the advent of automatic exchanges, an operator's assistance was required for anything other than calling telephones across a shared party line. Callers spoke to an operator at a Central Office who then connected a cord to the proper circuit in order to complete the call. Being in complete control of the call, the operator was in a position to listen to private conversations. Automatic, or Dial systems were developed in the 1920s to reduce labor costs as usage increased, and to ensure privacy to the customer. As phone systems became more sophisticated, less direct intervention by the telephone operator was necessary to complete calls.

Telephone switchboard 1880s.

Women operators working at the Bell Telephone Company exchange in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 1897.

Pacific Telephone & Telegraph operators, ca. 1900.

A Telephone Exchange operator in Richardson, Texas, ca. 1900.

Telephone switchboard operators, Salt Lake City, ca.1914. During this period, only young women (not men) were hired for this type of work at a Salt Lake City, Utah company.

An old telephone exchange office from about 1915.

Local telephone operator in Cantral, Illinois, 1917.

Springfield, IL phone company switchboard operators, 1917.

Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. switchboards, Washington, D.C., ca. 1919.

Southwestern Bell switchboard, ca. 1930s.

Switchboard operators in British-Mandate Palestine, ca. 1930s.

Young woman working as a telephone operator, ca. 1930s.

When Miss Harriot Daley was appointed telephone operator at the United States Capitol in 1898 there were only 51 stations on the switchboard. Today Miss Daley is Chief Operator, 1937.

Switchboard operators in 1939.

Information operators, ca. 1940s.

A large Bell System international switchboard in 1943.

Telephone operators, Seattle, Washington, U.S., 1952.

Women working at the U.S. Capitol switchboard, 1959.

Pacific Telephone & Telegraph operators, ca. 1964-66.

Pacific Telephone & Telegraph operators, ca. 1964-66.

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