WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) – ranking member and chairman of the Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee – along with Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) today introduced legislation to honor the groundbreaking service of the women who operated switchboards connecting communications for the American and French forces on the front lines of World War I (WWI).
The Hello Girls Congressional Gold Medal Act would award the women of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, also known as the Hello Girls, with the Congressional Gold Medal for their service and subsequent 60-year fight to be recognized as veterans.
“Connecting more than 150,000 calls per day, and doing so six times faster than their male counterparts, female switchboard operators played a crucial role in WWI,” said Sen. Moran. “Despite their service, it took decades for them to receive veteran status and therefore be recognized as some of our nation’s first women veterans. This Congressional Gold Medal will serve as way to honor the trailblazing Hello Girls and recognize their important contributions to our history.”
“The Hello Girls were faster and more accurate than any enlisted man at connecting men on the battlefield with military leaders, and blazed a new path for women on the front lines in France during WWI,” said Sen. Tester. “They took the Army oath, helped our allied forces win the war, but were still denied the veteran status and benefits they earned. This Congressional Gold Medal will honor their service and provide them with long-overdue recognition.”
“Often under combat conditions, the Hello Girls enabled time-sensitive command and control, critical to operations on the front lines during WWI,” said Sen. Blackburn. “It is imperative that we honor the bold service and sacrifice of these female veterans who fought to protect our great country.”
“The Hello Girls were true patriots who answered America’s call to action by serving as crucial links between American and French forces on the front lines during World War I,” said Sen. Hassan. “These bilingual women are considered some of America’s first women soldiers, and I am proud to join efforts to award them with the Congressional Gold Medal to honor their brave and selfless service.”
The Hello Girls were recruited after male infantrymen struggled to connect calls quickly or communicate with their French counterparts. The bilingual Hello Girls were deployed to France to serve at military headquarters and command outposts in the field alongside the American Expeditionary Forces. Despite their outstanding service and the military oath they took, they were denied veteran status and benefits when they returned home.
“I am so proud of my grandmother, Grace Banker, and the women of the Signal Corp with whom she served in WWI,” said Carolyn Timbie, granddaughter of Grace Banker, who was the Chief Operator of the Hello Girls. “They fought for 60 years to get their recognition as veterans, and I only wish my grandmother had lived to see this day. I'm excited knowing the world will now hear their story, with the distinction of a Congressional Gold Medal, along with the children, grandchildren and other descendants of these heroic women whose recognition is long-overdue!”
“Gold Star Wives of America, Inc. was formed in 1945 at the end of WWII, and our founding members were made up of those widowed both from WWII and WWI,” said Nancy Menagh, President of Gold Star Wives of America. “Some of these early members of our organization also served in important roles as ‘Rosy the Riveter’ or in the many position offered to women by our military—extraordinary women who stepped up when their nation needed them most. We are very proud to lend our support to the Hello Girls Congressional Gold Medal Act, as our nation honors the women of the Army Signal Corps of WWI. Our great nation should never forget their service and sacrifices.”
“America's first women soldiers sailed home from the still battlefields of France in a week,” said Dr. Elizabeth Cobbs, Ph.D., author of the Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers. “They fought seventy years for the Victory Medals granted every man at their side. Now is our chance to show appreciation for the first women to wear the nation's dog-tags.”
“The United States World War I Centennial Commission supports the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to the women of the Hello Girls for their conspicuous service, and acknowledges that they are American heroes who played a vital role in American military success during World War I,” said Terry Hamby, Chairman of the WWI Centennial Commission.
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