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Today: February 22, 2024
September 9, 2023

Let’s Celebrate Emma M. Nutt Day

emma nutt
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And who is this Emma person?

She was the world’s first female telephone operator.

Which raises a couple of important questions, especially for younger readers. First, what’s a telephone operator, and, second, what’s the big deal?

Well, when phones were first invented, you needed somebody at a switchboard (like the one above) to connect the call for you. We’re talking ancient times, of course, the late 19th century. The first telephone operators were young men, but they weren’t very polite to customers. So, telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell had a brainstorm: Let’s hire women for the job — they’re nicer, and they work for less.

The first person he hired was Emma. She started on September 1, 1878 and, in so doing, opened the door for women to enter what was then a cutting-edge, high-tech industry.

Interesting fact: She had a 54-hour work-week and made $10 a month. Ten bucks a month, by the way, was as bad then as it sounds. In today’s dollars that’s a little over $300.

Also, there were tons of restrictions imposed upon female operators including height, weight, and arm-length requirements. They had to be unmarried, between the ages of 17 and 27, and women of color need not apply.

In the years that followed Emma’s pioneering hire, female telephone operators were in the vanguard of the fight for equal rights for women and were strong proponents for labor law reforms.

This article first appeared in the monthly Get Smart Newsletter. 

About Post Author

J.C. Bruce

J.C. Bruce is a journalist and author of The Strange Files series of mysterious novels.
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