Emma M. Nutt Day is marked on September 1 each year. You may wonder, “Who is Emma Nutt?” She altered norms in a field where men predominated as the first telephone operator in history. Some of us still recall the time when telephone operators were around (even at the risk of sounding ancient.) The first thing that springs to mind when you think of a telephone operator is the sound of a woman’s nice, welcoming voice. However, there once was a time when telephone operators were young men. As you can understand, this situation could not continue. The world’s first female phone operator, Emma Nutt, opened doors for future generations of women, and that is where her narrative begins.
History of Emma M Nutt Day
The original phones were difficult to operate, a far cry from the modern, svelte mobile phones. As if that weren’t bad enough, telephone companies employed young men who weren’t particularly skilled at interacting with others to handle the switchboards. When calling the exchange, customers were never sure what to expect. The boys had a penchant for having abrasive chats and were nasty and impatient. They made jokes because, well, that’s what lads do, you know. They occasionally even cursed at the clients.
Alexander Graham Bell came up with the idea of replacing the boys with young women — naturally predisposed to being ‘polite.’ Bell hired a woman named Emma Nutt away from her job at the telegraph office. Her first day of work was September 1, 1878, and Nutt officially became the world’s first telephone operator. Hours later, her sister joined the same place and became the second.
Emma Nutt was a legend at her workplace. Reports say she remembered every number in the New England Telephone Directory Company. She was patient and cultured. Her soothing voice elevated customer service to heights previously unseen. By the 1880s, most telephone operators in the U.S. were women.
Despite making history, things weren’t peachy for female telephone operators. Nutt worked a 54-hour week for $10 a month. The lunch break was an hour each day. Women had to be unmarried and between 17 and 26 years old to get jobs as operators. There was a string of height, weight, and arm-length criteria. Passing height requirements were mandatory. The companies needed women tall enough to reach the tops of switchboards. The rules also stated that women of color couldn’t get jobs as operators.
In the years that followed, discriminatory work practices would trigger waves of activism for equal rights. The women working at the telephone companies were the heart of resistance and social change.
Emma M Nutt Day timeline
Teenage boys start work as telephone operators.
Emma Nutt begins her first day working at the Edwin Holmes Telephone Dispatch Company in Boston.
An anonymous op-ed in the New York Times by a woman talks about the unenviable day in the life of operators.
Women operators protest the meager pay and long hours, bringing telephone services to a halt in New England.
Emma M Nutt Day FAQs
What is Emma Nutt Day?
Emma M. Nutt Day is on September 1 to commemorate the story of Emma, a pioneer in the telephone industry. Her success paved the way for women to replace boys as telephone operators.
When did phone operators go away?
By the 1980s, TPS and other systems replaced cord switchboards. These new systems significantly reduce the need for operator involvement in calls.
How does a telephone switchboard work?
People would call the exchange, and a switchboard operator would answer. Callers share the name of the person they wish to speak to. Operators would then plug a patch cord into a socket on the switchboard to connect the two.
Emma M Nutt Day Activities
Make a telephone operator’s day
Pick up the phone and thank customer service reps for what they do — regardless of whether a woman or man picks up. Theirs is often a difficult, thankless job.
Listen to phone-inspired songs
Get into the groove with music about phones. Some of our favorites are Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called To Say I Love You,” Lady Gaga’s “Telephone,” and “Wrong Number” by The Cure.
Tell everyone about it
Share the history behind Emma M. Nutt Day with anyone who will listen. Write about it, share links, or perhaps publish a post on social media.
5 Facts About Telephones
The first telephone greeting
Alexander Graham Bell suggested using “ahoy” when picking up the phone.
Bell did not invent it
Antonio Mucci was the first to create a prototype called the “teletrofono.”
Deaf people inspired the idea
Bell’s wife, Mabel, was deaf and inspired him to take up telecommunications to make her life easier.
The telegraph came first
The telegraph was the forerunner to the telephone since it transmitted messages (albeit written) over long distances.
The first mobile phone
In 1983, Motorola created the first phone without wires that took 10 hours to charge and worked only for 30 minutes!
Why We Love Emma M Nutt Day
Tracing the influence of women
Female operators greatly influenced U.S. history and politics. They organized strikes for better pay. The women were crucial to efforts during World War I in the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit.
Evolution of technology
Emma M. Nutt Day offers a perspective on how much technology has evolved. From cable operators to smartphones, we’ve come a long way.
Remembering women who defied the odds
Lest we forget, today is about incredible women who paved the way for others in traditionally male-dominated careers. Today, we remember and learn more about Emma M. Nutt, Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie, Jane Goodall, and others like them.
Emma M Nutt Day dates