The concept of a telephone operator conjures recollections of Lily Tomlin’s snorting, sarcastic portrayal in TV episodes of “Laugh-In”. Her character of Ernestine kept viewers in stitches watching her outrageous lack of skills. The first true female telephone operator proved to be just the opposite.
During the late 1800s, the Boston Telephone Dispatch Company hired men to man the switchboards. This was not a very smart idea. Have you ever seen pictures of those old switchboards?
I question the multi-tasking skills of most males to smoothly juggle a wall full of plugs and flashing lights. The combination of mischievous young males and their control over the telephone is a recipe for crank-call chaos.
It was not long before the company realized the error of its ways and on September 1, 1878, gave Emma M. Nutt the opportunity to prove that a woman could do the job much better. She was impressive to the point of upstaging her husband, who was one of the male operators.
Emma was hired, becoming history’s first female telephone operator. She was followed by her sister, Stella Nutt. (It’s probably a good thing there were no sisters named Imma Nutt or Mia Nutt.)
Emma M. Nutt Day honors a woman who paved the way for many young women. Her career spanned thirty years and although the character was in complete contrast to the well-spoken, courteous Emma, the vocation inspired a comic sketch that brought laughter to our living rooms ninety years later.