World’s First Female Telephone Operator

Emma_Nutt_circa_1878-1900Today in 1878, Emma Mills Nutt (1860–1915) became the world’s first female telephone operator on when she started working for the Boston Telephone Dispatch company in Boston, Massachusetts.

Wikipedia: In January 1878 the Boston Telephone Dispatch company had started hiring boys as telephone operators, starting with George Willard Croy. Boys (including reportedly Emma’s husband) had been very successful as telegraphy operators, but their attitude (lack of patience) and behavior (pranks and cursing) was unacceptable for live phone contact, so the company began hiring women operators instead. Thus, on September 1, 1878, Emma was hired, starting a career that lasted between 33 and 37 years, retiring between 1911 and 1915.

Automated telephone switching, patented in 1891, eventually replaced telephone operators. In yet another example of the debates regarding Man Vs. Machine (in this case, distinctly of the female persuasion), a labor organizer testified in 1940 that “Electromechanical switching … … was ‘inanimate,’ ‘unresponsive,’ and ‘stupid,’ and did ‘none of the things which machinery is supposed to do in industry’–making it a ‘perfect example of a wasteful, expensive, inefficient, clumsy, anti-social device.’”



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