Allô Demoiselle!

"Weavers of Speech"

"Weavers of Speech" (photo courtesy of Boston Public Library)

French Telephone Industry: Les Demoiselles du téléphonistes


  As with American telephone operators, French telephone operators were also entirely female staff, also known as demoiselles téléphonistes. They were subjected to similar training programs as American women. As described in Les Annales politiques et littéraires (1908), such training would teach them the proper speaking tone, patience with customers, and proper physical technique for their prescribed tasks. Female operators were also expected to act ‘morally’ after working hours, similarly to their department store counterparts. And after a woman was married she would lose her job, with no opportunity to contest it as a discriminatory dismissal.

 Demoiselle du téléphonistes, 1911.

The work of the ladies on the phone was known to be nerve-racking, especially during rush hours, where despite the small number of subscribers, calls could be incessant. These ladies were also perfect targets for customers dissatisfied with the efficiency of the service. However, efficiency quickly improved, systems were better organized and to improve the quality of the service, operators had to compete in order to maximize their connections per hour.

 Parisian Telephone Exchange.

France was also quite inventive with its luxurious telephone offerings. For most, the phone was a luxury, and the telephone companies and its employees invented services similar to that which modern electronics offers today. Offerings such as: “information (the date—the 12th), a service for out-of-town subscribers ("Mr. Lacaille is absent until August 15th, he will be notified of your call on his return "), the alarm clock ("Hello sir, it is 4 o'clock! -Thank you, I take the train to Paris"), the PCV (payment against verification, it is the correspondent who paid)...”

Théâtrophone operator 

For the théâtrophone operators, the labor standards were no different. Females still dominated the workforce, but their hours began at 7pm, an hour before showtime. This operation style had much less stress on the operators because, unlike telephones, there was often no need to speak to the subscribers. Most public listening devices were being coin-operated which meant it would have no need for a microphone, since it was only home subscribers who would need to ring the operator to briefly interrupt the théâtrophone service to receive a call. For this, the théâtrophone operator would simply disconnect the line from the theatre back to the main line until the subscriber called back in to continue the show.

Theatrophone operators, Scientific American 1926.

Allô Demoiselle!