The Country Club of Petersburg hosted a private screening of the documentary “The Hello Girls,” Saturday, Nov. 16.
Directed by James Theres, “The Hello Girls” is an award-winning documentary that sheds light on the women soldiers of World War I, who expertly operated the telephone switchboards under Gen. John J. Pershing.
A weakness of the United States Army was the telephone operator scheme. This led to the Army running a newspaper advertisement recruiting women to become telephone operators. Two hundred twenty women were chosen by the Army to join this team, and after two months of training in the U.S. they were sent to France to aid the deployed soldiers.
During this time, telephones needed a human operator to manually connect calls. Prior to the women arriving, the average wait time between calls was 60 seconds. The women applied their skills, and that resulted in the average wait time becoming 10 seconds, a 50 second difference. In war, that could be the difference between life and fatality. The women connected over 26 million calls during their presence.
The women departed from France in January of 1920. Upon their arrival back home, the women were not recognized as real soldiers, meaning they were not considered veterans and had no benefits. By law, if the Army hands you a uniform and you take oath, you are a United States Soldier. It’s claimed that Pershing was so distraught by the immense amount of fatalities that the women gaining their recognition was insignificant to him during the time.
Fifty-seven years later, after the majority of them had passed away, President Carter signed a bill that recognized those 220 women as a part of Army history.
Theres is an author and filmmaker. “I accidentally did an incorrect Google search, which led me to finding the ‘Hello Girls’ book by Elizabeth Cobbs,” said Theres. Upon receiving his master’s from Jackson State University, Theres launched his own filmmaking company, Lincoln Penny Films. “I have a love and passion for history and filmmaking. This company gives me the opportunity to combine those two things.’’ He previously directed “The 30th of May,” which is also an award-winning documentary. “I want to tell the untold stories of history,” he said.
You can view more of his work at Lincolnpennyfilms.com.