Monday 25 April 2011

Telephone Operators

"The National Telephone Company recruit their operators from the ranks of bright, well-educated, intelligent girls, who are, in many cases, the daughters of professional men, doctors, barristers, clergymen, and others. After the preliminary examination the would-be operator goes into the telephone "school," which is fitted up as a dummy exchange, and is in charge of an experienced lady- instructor. Each pupil is furnished with a short list of terse, clear rules, and, sitting before the dummy plugs and switchboard, under the guidance of the instructor she is taught how to put these into practical use. The girls in turn act as subscribers, ringing up one another, and asking to be put on to certain numbers. An error made is pointed out, and continually questions are asked to test progress, until a pupil becomes sufficiently capable to be moved into the real exchange alongside an expert operator. A few weeks later and she becomes a fully fledged operator, whom practice and experience alone can improve. Her hours of duty are about nine daily, including the time allowed for midday dinner and afternoon tea. Few female operators work after 8 p.m., and their latest hour of duty is 10 p.m., when male operators take their places until the following morning has well begun.
    With pardonable feminine vanity the majority of the young ladies wear gloves while operating, to better maintain the contour and complexion of their busily worked fingers, and often conceals her ordinary walking habit under a loose kind of graduate's gown in dark material. This latter was a kindly idea of the N.T.C.'s administration to shield a sensitive and modestly-garbed operator from being distracted by an extra smart frock on either side of her.
    In the City calls practically stop at 7 p.m., but in the West-End half the day's work may be done between 10 p.m. and 12.30 am. The Holborn district wakes up first, owing chiefly to the Smithfield Meat Market, and the busy life of the other exchanges follows shortly afterwards. On the arrival of the dinner hour the operators are relieved by reserves, and take their seats at the attractively arranged tables in the dining-room. At every large exchange there is a spacious, cheerful room set apart for this purpose, a - kitchen, cooks, crockery, plate, furniture, etc., being provided free by the company. Here the operators dine or take afternoon tea. They provide their own food in so far as paying for what they consume, or an operator may bring in her own chop and have it grilled. The operators decide what next day's joint shall be, and this is served up with two vegetables, bread, butter, tea, etc at a price that would bankrupt the 'cutest and largest London caterer. Before this very sensible innovation, through rain, slush or snow the staff had to rush into the streets hurry through a cup of tea, a scone or bun in a crowded tea-room, and then return to faint later at the switchboard for lack of proper nourishment. Marriage terminates an operator's connection with the company, but, if specially experienced, she is registered on the reserve as a stand-by when epidemics come along."

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