The United States Army recruited them for an essential task in World War I that the men were not up to.
On Sunday, visitors at the Truman Library & Museum in Independence have a chance to view the recently produced documentary “The Hello Girls: America's First Women Soldiers” about the 223 women who managed the telephone switchboards in France.
The special screening, followed by a Q&A session with the film's director and producer, James Theres, will be from 2 to 3:30 p.m. It is free for Truman Library Institute members or with paid admission to the library ($8 for adults, $7 for seniors), and RSVPs are requested.
The event is part of the celebration for Bess Truman's 134th birthday (Feb. 13) and is presented in partnership with the Truman Library Institute and the Independence Pioneers Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Jennifer Vitela, public programs officer for the Truman Library, said that beyond an interesting film, the library was thrilled to get Theres to visit.
“James did a program at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and we're always trying to find a program that would be of particular interest to the Daughters of the American Revolution,” Vitela said. “He got some of his footage for the film from the National Archives.”
“We were able to encourage him to come here.”
Theres' film premiered last year, just a year after the book of the same name by Elizabeth Cobbs, and has been shown in film festivals at home and abroad and received special screenings at the Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery and Kansas City’s World War I Museum. An off-Broadway musical, “The Hello Girls,” also premiered last year. The group also received a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal in 2018.
General John Pershing, commander of the U.S. military in France during World War I, found that men mostly didn't have the skills necessary to manage the telephone switchboards and change connections between command headquarters and officers near the front lines – like perhaps artillery unit Captain Harry Truman. Women proved more adept with this newer technology, and in war a little time difference can always be critical.
The War Department put out the call in newspapers across the country and Canada. Candidates had to be bilingual to also communicate with French soldiers. Thousands applied, and a couple hundred made the cut.
However, while Pershing lauded their work, and their service helped finish the push for women’s suffrage, only in 1977 did the U.S. government officially recognize the women as veterans and eligible to receive such benefits.
“It is such a compelling topic, and then you think about how these women and their service didn't get recognized,” Vitela said. “Many of them had passed away before they were recognized as veterans.”
“It's timely, relevant and such a good story.”
Visitors can make their RSVP at www.trumanlibrary.org.