Chipley’s Telephone Girl

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The last time I actually spoke with a bona-fide telephone operator was about 15 years ago, and that was only after working my way through a robotic menu of options, and waiting on hold for about five minutes while listening to classic rock converted to elevator music.

It must have been interesting to be a telephone operator, also known as a “telephone girl” or “hello girl”, in the early 1900s.

A portion of an editorial about telephone girls. Source: The Pensacola Journal, February 1, 1912. http://www.chroniclingamerica.gov

There weren’t many jobs in technology for women in the early 1900s; most of the ‘socially acceptable’ jobs were teaching, nursing, stenography, or housewifery. There were women telegraphers (Emmett was a telegrapher with the Louisville & Nashville Railroad in high school, and when he was home from college during breaks), but they were a rarity, especially in rural depots. Not everyone had a telephone, and the service was haphazardLegislation was introduced in 1903 to erect telephone poles and string wires. Phones were in Chipley prior to 1903, but it took a few years for the communities to organize the utility; make things ‘official.’

A switchboard operator in Richardson, Texas, around 1900. The switchboard and operator probably looked similar in Chipley, Florida. Source: Vintage Everyday

Also, while there were telephones in Emmett’s hometown at the turn of the century, they were mostly owned by businesses and the wealthy.

But Chipley had telephone girls! One of them was Lucile Cook McGeachy.

According to The Chipley Banner, Lucile was one of the local ‘telephone girls’ before she married Stephen E. McGeachy, a pharmacist.

Stephen McGeachy, pharmacist. Did Stephen and Lucile “court” on the telephone exchange party lines? Source: The Chipley Banner, January 4, 1912; http://www.chroniclingamerica.gov

The October 13, 1904 issue of The Chipley Banner states that “Miss Lucile Cook is the voice of the telephone exchange in Chipley.” There is no other mention of her service to the telephone exchange in later issues of the paper; Lucile and Stephen were married December 27, 1904, and she may have stopped working after that date.

Marriage license of Stephen McGeachy and Lucile Cook. Source: Ancestry.com

Unfortunately, the marriage was short-lived. Lucile Cook McGeachy died in 1908.

Lucile Cook McGeachy. Source: Find-a-grave.

 

 

 

 

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