A Woman to Know: Grace Banker

Never spent more time at the office and never enjoyed anything more. — Grace Banker

Never spent more time at the office and never enjoyed anything more. — Grace Banker

(image via Wikimedia)

In 1917, as World War I raged through Europe, Grace Banker was rising through the ranks at AT&T. She worked as a long-distance line instructor, training new employees and recruiting other women to join the industry. But when she saw an Army opportunity for wartime telephone operators needed in France, she put her career on hold — she knew this was her chance to join the war effort.

In 1917, Grace led 31 other women across the Atlantic to France. Once set up in the warfront office, Grace assembled her team of female switchboard operators, known as “Hello Girls.” Telephone Unit No. 1 fielded calls from secret offices, underground bunkers and even in the battlefield trenches alongside soldiers.

“What good sports girls were in that First Unit!” Banker later said. “They took everything in their stride. They were the pioneers.”

But despite their accolades, the women were treated as civilian volunteers once the war ended in 1918, not as veterans. Banker later worked in Woodrow Wilson’s office and again on the war front in Germany, for which she received a Distinguished Service Medal.

Many “Hello Girls” returned to their lives in the United States and fought for veteran status. But they wouldn’t win this recognition until 1977, 17 years after Banker died back home in New York.

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