You all have to forgive me for the cheeky title of this blog, but I just couldn’t resist the pun.Fact is though that Emma Nut was a pioneer and she probably didn’t realize it herself.
The first telephones were hard enough to use without the added harassment of the teenage boys who worked as the earliest switchboard operators — and who were, notoriously rude.
As mentioned above, the first operators were all boys, and while we’re not huge fans of the phrase ‘boys will be boys’ in modern parlance, it was definitely something that was well believed back in the early days of telephone. Boys who were put in the position of telephone operators exhibited a basic lack of patience, and behaviors that included pranks and cussing, which just wouldn’t do for the people who were supposed to be the friendly voice of a telephone operator.
It was Alexander Graham Bell himself who came up with a solution: replacing the abrupt male operators with young women who were expected to be innately polite. He hired a woman named Emma Nutt away from her job at a telegraph office, and on this day, Sept. 1, in 1878, she became the world’s first female telephone operator. (Her sister, Stella, became the second when she started work at the same place, Boston’s Edwin Holmes Telephone Dispatch Company, a few hours later.)
As an operator, Nutt pressed all the right buttons: she was patient and savvy, her voice cultured and soothing, according to the New England Historical Society. Her example became the model all telephone companies sought to emulate, and by the end of the 1880s, the job had become an exclusively female trade. She was a true ‘rock star’ at what she did too, working a 54-hour week at a rate of $10 a month and memorizing every number in the New England Telephone Company directory. She then went on to work for the company for between 33 and 37 years, ultimately retiring.
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