Tuesday, March 2, 2010


This is a picture of an office of switchboard operators. Some had discussed seeing such scenes yesterday. I have heard in some places the managers were on roller skates, but I do not see any of these people on skates.


  1. interesting photo. I counted 10 people standing who appear to be 'managers' but for the world I don't know what they would managing. "Stick your cord into this little hole to connect?????" Makes you realize what progress we have made in a century with our cell phones doesn't it?
    Your current poll is interesting with way more people believing in the good ol' country life.

    1. They use to manage irate customers, help with emergency calls - people would dial 0 instead of 911. Just think how it would feel when someone dialed 0 because they were afraid or someone was stabbing them. I have as an operator. The calls had to be timed and charge so a position could never be just left vacant when an operator had to go on break/lunch etc. They would have to take over or move the calls. They would help with complex calls like ship to shore. Just a few things those managers helped their workers. Oh by the way, an operator were very disciplined. they were not allowed to even move their head in either direction because they may loose or mischarge a call. I have always felt everyone should be an operator first in their life, everything else after that would be heaven.

  2. Which one is "Ma Bell" ?

  3. The early progenitor of sitting in a cubicle, staring at a computer screen all day? I suspect many a headache was born in this room.

    I also notice not just the clothes are identical, but all the women have the same hairstyle. I'll bet they all perched hats on top of those buns when they left work at the end of the day. With bits of dead birds on them, no doubt!

  4. Small town life near a big city is the best life!

  5. Isn't this week's poll question really a commentary on life. That which glitters and shines rarely delivers that which you had hoped for.

  6. Makes me think of Ernestine from LAUGH IN.

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  8. When I was a kid I wanted to be an operator "when I grew up". (Still waiting!) I was flabbergasted when my dad old me that there wouldn't BE operators by the time I got out of school, and he was right. by the mid 1960s they were pretty much a dying breed.
    At the time this picture was taken, operators were held to a very high standard. If they were unmaried, the girls were expected to live at home, and most left to raise families after they did marry. This picture looks as if it dates from around 1914, so some of these women may have been married to doughboys, and supporting themselves until hubby came home. If he did.
    If the women worked the late shift, the men in the office would walk them to the car line (streetcar) and wait until they got on.
    The managers would have been there to help with long distance calls, fill in for breaks, and frequently listened in on calls to make sure the operators were polite and courteous at all times.
    Ah, the clothing was probably not as nearly identical as it looks. Shirtwaists and skirts were the order of the day, and white, pale blue, or pink blouses would have photographed the same.

    1. I became an operator in 1970 and believe me we still had to wear dresses. Very high standards. I finally left the company 2 years ago as a Sr. Technical Support Mgr. Long wonder hard working ride but loved every minute of it.

  9. My husband's Aunt was a switchboard operator in Altus Oklahoma back in the 30's & 40's, when it was Bell Telephone.

  10. This is a great photo! My cousin worked for Bell when it was breaking apart and was an operator in the 70s/80s? When did that happen? Anyway, we talked about how much better things were for her than for ladies like these!

  11. Watch the Changeling.
    Angelina Jolie is a managing operator on roller skates.

  12. My great grandmother was a telephone operator back in the 1910's and told us she wore roller skates (with her long restricting skirts). She also told us fun stories of trying to jump on the (moving) trolly in her restricting clothes.

  13. Most people sday the country life is best, but they live in town and have no real plans to live in the country.
    I have a small rural property which was rented to some suburbanites. They thought it was going to be so great. They FLED in 60 days claiming the house was haunted. Lost their deposit too! The house was new. It was a first for the management company. Apparently they were freaked by the normal night noises like owls and coyotes.
    My mother used to be a witchboard operator from 1945-1960. The supervisors listened to a lot of calls to make sure the ops were doing their job. They also could tell when operators were eavesdropping on calls. When my mother was a operator, most women left when they had children, but by then many married women and women with children were employed. If a woman got off duty late at night, the phone company paid for a cab to take her home.

  14. with so many bosses standing around,, maybe a training session,, ERNESTINE,,lol

  15. I think the hairstyles are more to
    do with keeping the hair out of the
    way, from the face and side of the
    They're leaning forward, writing,
    and the hair would make things
    A woman on the left, standing, has
    her hair down.

  16. Comments, comments everywhere!
    We must be in Picture Embargo Threat Level: GREEN.

  17. PJM,

    Roller skates were used by operators back in the day. However, they tended to be used in the larger nexus points. You'd have a person going from point a to a board 7 or 8 boards down to plug in.

    I currently work for a former Bell company, and my spouse's aunt used to work a cork board when she first started with Ma Bell sometime back in the '20's and '30's. I will have to see if I have a picture of her in her tea length dress and roller skates. I believe the spousal unit has one around somewhere. She's in her early 90's now and it's fun to do a stare and compare as it were.

    Operator services is pretty much an extinct department. I believe the last of ours were migrated into other jobs with the company in the '90's.

    One of the things interesting to note is that in the early days, operators were not allowed to be women in the UK and in some parts of the US. They were all men.

    I do have a picture of a native American woman in traditional attire at a switchboard, and I have a few other vintage switchboard operator pictures. They are by and large women, which I find somewhat odd since I understand that male operators supposedly outnumbered women by quite a bit. I'd have to go dig up that statistic again on Google.

    Anyway, nice page you have here. I've been following it for quite a while. However, since I am on the left coast, the Saturday contest with the Evil Nate Maas (tm) is generally over long before I get a chance to even peek at your site, I never bother posting a guess because it's all over by the time I get here.

    Maybe you should put him to work counting eggs and chickens while you putter around the back 40 in your tractor. It'd serve him right ;)


  18. Manually connecting phones in the days before dialing was one hard job ... one which many men would not have had the patience to undertake.

    It took skill and patience, and much brain power was involved. Unless the called party was in the same exchange, and thus on her switchboard, the operator would have to connect to a different operator who'd ring the destination.

    If a called party was in another city, the operator would transfer the call to "long distance," who would record the pertinent details, ask the calling party to hang up, and then set up a long distance call.

    To set up a call, the long distance operators would have to know where to call (before operator dialing, that meant plugging into the right trunk). If the called party was in a small town , she might have had to route the call through regional waypoints, who would in turn route the call to smaller cities, who had the connection to the small town.

    The supervisors were there to handle problems. The operators were expected to be accurate, courteous, and patient.


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