Efforts Renewed for Congressional Gold Medal to Honor World War I ‘Hello Girls’

Efforts Renewed for Congressional Gold Medal to Honor World War I ‘Hello Girls’
More than 200 women served with the Army Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit during World War I. (Army photo)

By Judy Christie


A proposed Congressional Gold Medal to honor the “Hello Girls,” the pioneering World War I Army Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit, is receiving renewed bipartisan attention in the House and Senate.


The medal push is the latest in a long effort to recognize the Hello Girls, who provided critical communications as switchboard operators from WWI front lines, connecting 26 million calls.


The unit originated when Gen. John J. Pershing, USA, discovered early in the war that French women serving as switchboard operators spoke little or no English, making communications between American headquarters almost impossible. The War Department selected 223 American women who spoke French and had telecommunications experience to serve overseas, and this unit became known as the Hello Girls.


Although they were hailed as heroes for their service, they were denied benefits when they returned home and waged a 60-year battle before winning recognition as veterans. An earlier Congressional Gold Medal effort stalled, but the bill was reintroduced in 2021 and is moving through Congress with support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.



More than 40 senators have co-sponsored a bill that would award the "Hello Girls" a Congressional Gold Medal. (Army photo)


The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor of appreciation awarded by Congress, and the bill must be co-sponsored by two-thirds of the members of both chambers. As of June 10, the bill had 22 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and 43 in the Senate. The bill’s passage is advocated by the World War I Centennial Commission.


Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.) -- whose district houses the National World War I Museum and Memorial, built in 1926 and the only national museum to commemorate WWI -- is working to pass the law.


“For far too long, the Hello Girls have failed to receive the recognition and honors they earned from their dedicated service to the nation at a time of grave need,” he said. “In an era when women couldn’t even participate in our democracy, these women swore oaths, put on the uniform and served alongside our servicemen during World War I, helping to send critical communications that were instrumental in the coordination of French and American forces that, ultimately, helped win the Great War.”


The story of the Hello Girls really hit home, Cleaver said.


“As the nephew of a Tuskegee Airman who went to Europe to defend democracy and the values of freedom during WWII, only to return home with less benefits and recognition than his white counterparts, I can understand how these women must have felt after courageously serving their country, only to be told they couldn’t qualify as veterans simply because of their gender. While it’s disappointing that it took until 1979 for these women to gain veteran status, we can, and should, continue to honor them for their support of our country when that support was not fully reciprocated.”


MOAA members can help “by calling your representative and senators to tell them to cosponsor the Hello Girls Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2021 so that we can get the number of cosponsors needed to pass the bill into law,” Cleaver said. “By passing this legislation and shining light on their pivotal role in the war effort, it is my hope that we can lift up the story of the Hello Girls so that future generations will know of their heroism, ensuring the tales of their service live on forever.”


Judy Christie is a freelance writer living in Colorado. 


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