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Saturday Spotlight

March is Women’s History Month and today we are featuring an image of a woman working at the Telephone Switchboard at the Tiskilwa Pioneer Telephone Company.

For many reasons women’s stories are not well preserved in the historical record, but through documents like censuses, we can piece together their lives and histories. This telephone operator is unidentified, but it is likely this picture was taken around 1920. The 1920s census for Tiskilwa lists four women working as telephone operators: Carrie Fritchie, Bella Chenoweth, Rose Erwin, and Elva Swain. We think this photo might be Carrie Fritchie [later Wilkins].

Jobs were limited for women, but in the early 1900s many began employment in the growing job market as telephone operators. World War I and the expansion of telephone networks, which relied on these switchboards, greatly increased the need for more operators. The “Hello Girls,” as they were often called, were replaced by technological advances in phones in bigger cities by the 1930s. But in rural areas like our community, operators worked well into the 1950s.


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