Emma M. Nutt Day
Emma M Nutt became the first female phone operator when she joined the New England Telephone Company in Boston, Massachusetts on Sept. 1, 1878,. She was hired by Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the first practical telephone. Shortly after her sister Stella was also hired and they became the first “sister team” to work as telephone operators.
While Stella only worked for a couple years at the company, leaving her job to get married, Emma ended up there for thirty years. She worked a 54-hour week at a rate of $10 a month and memorizing every number in the New England Telephone Company directory.
In 1878 the New England Telephone Company started out hiring only men. After complaints of men being pretty gruff with their swearing and impatience the company decided to hire women.
This was before the era or equality, and to qualify for a job as an operator, women had to be unmarried and between ages 17 and 26. They had to be tall enough to reach to top of the telephone switchboard. African American and Jewish women couldn’t get jobs as operators. the women that were hired were not treated nicely and worked two shifts a day.
During World War I, the telephone operators decided to take advantage of the resulting labor shortage. They ended up striking for better wages and hours, and they won. Sadly after the war, things started to turn back around again for the employers.
On April 15, 1919, New England’s night shift operators walked off the job. This resulted in a five-state telephone operator strike. Thousands of women with with the community’s support walked out. Five days later, management granted wage increases and union recognition.
But not to be outdone, the telephone company soon introduced the automatic dial phone, which didn’t require an operator for a local call.