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, Boston Telephone Dispatch Company began hiring males to man the switchboards. It doesn’t require too much brainpower to imagine why this would be a bad idea.
Have you 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 wasn’t long before the company realized its human-resource error and on September 1, 1878, gave Emma M. Nutt the opportunity to prove a woman could do the job better. Her abilities were impressive. She even upstaged her husband who was one of the male operators.
Emma was hired, becoming the first female telephone operator in history. 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.