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Congressional Gold Medal Act Would be Awarded to Women Telephone Operators of WWI

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin today cosponsored bipartisan legislation honoring the groundbreaking service of the women who connected American and French forces on the front lines during World War I. The Hello Girls Congressional Gold Medal Act will award the women of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, dubbed the ‘Hello Girls,’ with the Congressional Gold Medal for their service and subsequent 60 year fight to be recognized as veterans.

“The 223 women who served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during the first world war, including two Wisconsinites, connected more than 26 million calls between military officers on the frontlines, and played an integral role in the war effort,” said Senator Baldwin.  “I’m so proud to join this bipartisan effort to honor the brave, trailblazing women who stepped up to serve their country, and to acknowledge their decades-long fight to be given the recognition they deserve.”

Women were recruited after male infantrymen struggled to connect calls quickly or communicate with their French counterparts. The bilingual female telephone operators served at military headquarters and command outposts in the field alongside the American Expeditionary Forces in France. Despite their outstanding service and the military oath they took, they were denied veteran status and benefits when they returned home. In 1977, 60 years after the first Hello Girls took the Army oath, Congress passed legislation to retroactively acknowledge the military service of the women of the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

A recent documentary by Wisconsin filmmaker Jim Theres told the story of the “Hello Girls,” which included two Wisconsinites – Martina Heynen (Green Bay) and Hildegarde Van Brunt Abbott (Milwaukee) who both sailed to France in the second group of phone operators in April 1918.

The legislation was first introduced by Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Dean Heller (R-NV).

Text of the legislation is available here. The full list of female telephone operators of WWI kept in the National Archives can be read here.

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