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NO. 110



For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, Washington, D.C.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis




Price S cents



Washington, May f3 , 1933.
I have the honor to submit a report on the effects on
women opera.tors of the change from manual to dial operation in
the telephone industry.
The success of the industry in so planning its employment program
for 2 or more years ahead that practically the only operators laid
off at the final cut-over were temporary workers engaged only for
the last few months, makes this a notable example of the possibilities of long-view planning in cases of technological change. .
Every assistance was given the Bureau by the telephone companies
in the supplying of all information desired and in granting access
to records. This courtesy is gratefully acknowledged.
The study was made 'by Ethel L. Best, industrial supervisor.
Respectfully submitted.




Secretary of Labor.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis


P age

Letter of transmittaL______________________ __ ________ _____ __ ____ ________


Introduction------------------ ----------------------------- ----------- • 1
A complete cut-over to the dial system__ _________________________________ _
A partial cut-over to the dial system ____ __ ________ ________________ ___ _ 11
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

The telephone industry is the product of our scientific and mechanical age. It is not an outgrowth of an earlier hand industry, as is
the manufacture of cotton and woolen cloth, of boots and shoes, or of
furniture. Although the telephone industry sprang full-born into
existence, it has been subject to the gradual changes and improvements of all growing things. The improvements have been largely
technical, but accompanying these changes have been alterations in
personnel, in training, in service, in the many coordinating activities
of a highly developed and integrated Nation-wide service system.
In the early days telephone operators were boys, but t hey were
often impatient and would " answer back " to subscribers. They
were even known to meet afterward to fight it out with some especially irate customer. So after 2½ years girl operators were introduced, with satisfaction both to the subscribers and to the company.
Before long women had for the most part supplanted the boy operators, and by 1890 there were approximately 3,000 women employed
in the Bell Telephone System. 1
Of the hundreds of occupations in which women were engaged in
1930, according to the Census of Occupations,2 only about a dozen
employed more women than did telephone operating. Nor is the
only occupation open to women in telephone service that· of switchboard operator, in which such large numbers find employment.
There are now opportunities for them to work as clerks, bookkeepers,
cashiers, employment supervisors, engineering assistants, office managers, production supervisors, commercial managers, librarians, and
research workers, and in many other positions. In short, the teleuhone industry, like most large enterprises, has many different kinds
of work and offers a wide variety of jobs to its women workers.
It is also like other great industries in that it is constantly im~
proving its equipment and installing the latest and best designs
invented in its engineering and laboratory departments. Throughout history, from the invention of the spinning jenny or the powerdriven loom in the textile industry to the most highly mechanized
packing and wrapping machines of today, such changes cause a
displacement of human labor by the machine. In one of the latest
changes in the telephone industry.2 that from manual to dial operation, the same human problem ot the disposition of the displaced
worker is involved as in a factory when a more mechanical method
1 Bell Telephone Quarterly, January 1932, p. 34.
2 U.S.
Burea u of the Census. Fifteenth Census, 1930.
Summary, table 3, p. 9.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Occupation Statistics, U.S.




of manufacture is installed. The more social the viewpoint 0£ man-

agement, the mo~e. ~oes the worker displaced by new inventions
become a_ resp?ns1b1hty to be cared fo~. B_ecause the telephone system carries science and forethought mto its human as well as its
technical planning, the method employed in its recent change to
the dial system and the effects on the workers have been carefully
examined by the Women's Bureau. 3
Technological change in an industry such as the telephone, which
is already technical to a high degree, is not one to be easily understood by the telephoning public. They realize that, under the dial
systeni, instead 0£ calling "central" £or local calls and giving the
number wanted, they turn small numbers on a disk, there is a click,
and the connection is accomplished. They no longer hear" Number,
please~ " at the other end of the wire, and i£ the wr~ng number is
connected the fault does not lie with the connecting agency but with
themselves. To the ordinary telephone user it seems that everything
now is mechanical, whereas formerly it was human. It is not surprising that this lack of knowledge, combined with the large amount
0£ technological unemployment, should make the dial system appear
to the ordinary subscriber as an almost .perfect example of the replacement by the machine of human beings. To some extent this
is the case, but to l;low great a degree and by what careful planning
and efficient work the hardship to the workers is minimized is not
so clearly realized.
The tech1:10logical change to the dial operating of the telephone
probably is better known to the men and women of the United States
than any other recent technical change, and there has been much discussion as to the numbers 0£ women displaced by the dial and some
interest as to how they fared. What actually happened to women
in two cities is typical 0£ the process now going on in many towns
and cities throughout the country, and a .brief description of the
change may be helpful in understanding the problems incident to
-he cut-over from the old ·or manual to the dial method.
J;:n manual operation, when, a customer lifts his receiver a tiny
light burns on the switchboard beside a small hole or " jack " representing the terminus of his line. An operator inserts into this jack
a plug on one end of a connecting cord and asks " Number, please 1 "
If she receives an ol'der for a telephone served from the same office,
she inserts the plug on the other end of the cord into the jack of the
desired line and then rings on the circuit. Lamp signals show
whether the called party answers and when the parties hang up.
Should the call be for a telephone in another office in the same
city, the answering operator "passes" the call for completion to an
operator in the other office_, using an interoffice (trunk) line.
Intercity (long distance) calls require cooperation by at least two
operators and often more. Frequently four operators are involveda local operator answering th~ call and advancing it to a nearby toll
operator for forwarding to a distant toll operator, who in turn passes
it to the distant local operator £or completion. If there is no permanent direct ci:ucuit and one mu~t be "built up", then an operator at
each " switching point " also enters the picture.
1 Described briefly, the method used was to stop adding permanent employees to the
rolls al'1 much as 2 years before tbe propo,;ed chan ge, and to t11ke on onlv emplo:vees
engaged definitely on a temporary basis. When the cut-over dates arrived, only four
women among those o~ a perma~ent basis were laid off.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis



Dial systems substitute electromechanical processes for some-not
all-of these manual operations. In an all-dial area no central-office
operators are required to complete strictly local calls correctly dialed.
Operators are required, however, to assist customers who dial incorrectly or who need other help. In an area part dial and part manual,
operators assist in completing calls from either type of office to the
other. All these, as well as the local operators in the smaller cities
and towns where manual operation is retained, will continue to
increase in numbers as the volume of telephone traffic grows. Manual
or dial, there is the same need of operators for many special services,
among them interception of calls for changed or discontinued numbers and supplying information about new telephones or the numbers
of those in distant places. Similarly, the number of operators
handling short-haul toll calls and long-distance calls has been little,
if any, affected by the dial system. The same is true of operators
at private branch exchange boards, of whom there are about as many
in the country as central-office operators.
The program calls for the introduction of the dial system for
handling local calls in fewer than 500 of the 6,000 exchanges of the
system that was studied by the Women's Bureau. Most exchanges
will not be cut over-at least, such is the present plan. But where
the cut-over is to be made, infinite care and planning are being used.
The change to dial was begun in 1920, and it is planned to have the
conversion substantially completed in a few years.
The sample of the methods employed in making the cut-over
may be regarded as typical of what is occurring in large and small
communities throughout the country. In rehearsing the planning
and experience of the telephone industry during thi~ period of technological change, it is realized that much of it may not apply to
technological changes in a single industrial plant. However, the
general principle of long-time planning for changes, with constant
care and thought for the employees affected, may be applied to any
jndustry. Mr. Ching, of the United States Rubber Co., said in a
speech in Chicago that the hardships resulting to the worker through
technological changes could almost be measured by the suddenness
with which such changes were effected, emphasizing further the need
for long and careful planning before installing technological improvements that dispense with large numbers of workers. In the
telephone industry, where every effort is made to mitigate the hard~hip to the workers of technological change and improvement, there
is practically no unemployment except in the case of temporary employees, who know when they are taken on that the job probably will
last only until the change to dial is made. The long-time planning
in this instance shows that much can be done to prevent general dislocation where new and labor-saving equipment is introduced.
There are two ways of introducing a change: The entire system
may be altered at one time, or the change may be gradual, with the
jnstalling of the new method first in one section and then in another.
In the present study of the change to the dial system in telephone
operating, the examples described are the change of about one third
of a city's telephone stations and the change of the stations of an
entire, but much smaller, city. It is apparent that the difficulties
involved when an entire city is cut over to a changed method present
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis



far more complications in adjusting the employment problem than
when the change is gradual. In both cities the change was planned
for more than 2 years in advance, and careful arrangements were
made to eliminate unemployment, with its personal and social consequences, as far as possible.
To ascertain the effect of the change on employment, a matter of
great interest to the Women's Bureau, the numbers o.f operators on
the company's books at three dates were taken about 6 months previous to the cut-over, at the time of cut-over, and after the cut-over
was established, 7 months after in one city and 6 months after in
the other. The plans of the company for the change as they affected
the operators were checked with care, as were also the results after
the cut-over. The effect of the change on the workers who remained
with the company was noted in regard to Sunday work, split tricks,
and night work.
The company furnished the names and addresses of .displaced operators 4 and these women were visited in their about 12
months after the change to obtain information on their work experience in the period since the cut-over. Earnings of these displaced
women at the time of the cut-over were supplied by the company so
that they could be checked with the earnings on succeeding jobs with
other employers. As- all workers who returned to the telephone
company in the same city were reinstated at the salary at time of
leaving, no comparison was necessary for the wages of this group.

Due to the growth of this city, a manufacturing community of
nearly 200,000 population in New England, it became necessary to
abandon the old telephone building and the manual type of operation and to provide suitable quarters for housing a modern telephone
plant under the dial system. Early in 1927 it was determined that
the change from the old to the new system should be made in
July 1930.
It was estimated that the :full :force o:f employees would be needed
up to the date of the conversion, and t he problem was to so plan their
intake and outgo before the cut-over, and the disposition of surplus
after the cut-over, as to avoid laying off employees who might wish
further employment. The plan adopted was to let the normal resignations gradually reduce the regular (permanent) force, but to keep
the total :force at full strength by replacing these losses with tern porary employees who could be released after the cut-over. On this
basis the regular force woul'd be down to requirements by the time of
the cut-over if the plan were put into operation in October 1927.
Accordingly, all applicants registering after October were told
that, if employed, their services probably would be terminated when
the new dial system was installed. Up to the middle of 1930, employment conditions in this city were extremely good, and in order
'This term is used here to describe the women f'mployed under the manual system and
dropped at time of the cut-over, in spite of the fact that all were t empornry employees
engaged to work only until that date. Many were absorbed later by the telephone
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis



to obtain sufficient numbers of the type required for telephone work
special recruiting measures were necessary. However, enough applicants expressed a preference for this type of employment, and these
readily signed a clause stamped on the application blank that pointed
out the short-term nature of the prospective job. A representative
of the company then visited the homes of the accepted applicants
and explained to the parents or guardians that the work probably
would not be permanent. This was satisfactory in most cases, although several parents thought permanent work would be more desirable and withdrew their daughters' applications.
During a period of approximately 6 months before the cut-over it
was not practicable to attempt to recruit and train inexperienced
people for the short time remaining. There was available a group
of former employees, mostly married, who from time to time came
in on call and assisted the company when unusually heavy traffic,
vacations, or other condition reqmred extra emJ?loyees for short
periods. These people, classed as " occasional ", did not expect nor
desire permanent employment and obviously fitted well into the
employment program. However, to obtain the number required it
was necessary to interview practically all who could be reached of
the employees who had resigned in the previous 5 years. Actually,;
more of them could have been placed than were available, and ot
those enlisted only half could work full time because of their
respective home duties.
The shortage still remaining was due to the extensive retraining
necessary to effect the change to the dial system without service
interruptions. A year in advance of the cut-over a small group of
operators were given from 4 to 6 weeks' intensive training. The
general training of all operators requiring it was begun in March
1930, each employee receiving from 2 to 4 weeks of instruction. All
training was on company time, and of course it was necessary to
have substitutes at the switchboard during the hours of training.
For this purpose, 91 experienced operators were borrowed from other
cities. These had their transportation and subsistence paid during
this period and were returned to their home offices immediately after
the cut-over.
At midnight of July 14, 1930, the entire city was cut over, that is,
changed to the dial system of operating. Before and even after the
cut-over there was much discuss10n among the citizens as to the number of women displaced by the change, and rumor reported between
500 and 600 as so affected. To obtain accurate information, the numbers of operators at 6 months before the change, immediately before
the change, and at 6 months after the change were copied from the
pay rolls. These figures follow:
J anuary 1930. _. __ ___________ • _. _________________________ ______ _
June l 930 __ ______ __ .. -- _. ______________________ __________ _____ _
January 1931. _. _____ _____ __ ___ ___________________________ __ ____

177813 °-33-

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis








249 ---------- ------ ----



The disposition of the 534 operators on the books m June, just
before the cut-over, was as follows:
and occasional



TotaL . ______________________________________________________________ ___ . . ,__
Retained .. _. ____ . ___. ____ _______________________ _____ __________________ ___ . . __ ._
Transferred .. __. ____ . __________________ .. ________ ______________________________ .
Resigned .. __ .. __ ._ .. ____ __ ____ . ___ . ______ . _______________ . ___ . __ . __________ ._.__
Laid off .• ____ ___ • ______ _______ • _____ •• ___ ._. _____________ .__ __ _________ _________

31 2






At the time of the change, then, 260 employees were retained,
though, as apparent from the table last preceding, this figure was
reduced by normal resignations to 249 during the following 6
The number of operators laid off was 116, and of these all but 4
were temporary or occasional operators. The 4 exceptions were married women not especially desirous of remaining at work. Of the 131
operators who were transferred, only 2, who were changed to plant
work, could be transferred within the city itself, as all might have
been cared for in a case of partial cut-over; but positions were offer ed
in nearby towns and cities, and as far as possible the inclination and
convenience of the operator were consulted.
Of the 179 employees hired for temporary service from 6 months
to 2 years before the cut-over, 5 were employed by the telephone company within the city, 94 were transferred to exchanges in other
cities, and 4 resigned, leaving 76 who were laid off. Of 43 "occasional" employees, consisting of ex-operato·rs rehired in the 6-month
period immediately before the cut-over, and who neither expected
nor, as a rule, desired permanent employment, all were laid off but
5 who resigned and 2 who were retained by the company.
In spite of the small number of women laid off in relation to the
population of nearly 200,000, it was a large enough group to be of
public interest, and the telephone company sought the cooperation
of the chamber of commerce and the mercantile bureau in finding
possible work for the operators affected. A personal canvass was
made by the telephone employment supervisor among employers of
women all over the city, and as a r esult approximately 38 jobs in 24
concerns were offered. These positions consisted of office work, sales
work in stores, and counter work in r estaurants, with salaries ranging from $12 to $25 a week. Only 11 girls of those laid off accepted
permanent positions thus provided, the r emainder not being interested in the positions offered.
Visits were made a year after the cut-over to 78 operators whose
employment had terminated at that time. An effort was made to
interview all of the 116, but some had moved and could not be located, and others, though called upon repeatedly, were not found at
It is to be remembered that of the 116 laid off, 76 were short-service
people who had been recruited for ( and were agreeable to) temporary employment; 36 were ex-operators who had accepted reemployment with the distinct understanding that they wished to work only
until the cut-over; and 4 were regular employees (married women)
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis



who were not averse to quitting work. Most of these employees did
not wish further employment at the time; all were offered telephone
positions in other cities and given a chance at positions with other
concerns in the same city, more of which could have been located for
them by the telephone company had there been sufficient demand, but
none of the employees laid off accepted these offers. Some of them
expected to seek employment eventually but planned to wait at least
until fall. That some of them subsequently were anxious to find
employment and had difficulty in doing so was, of course, due chiefly
to the changed circumstances brought about by. the depression.
Of the 78 who were interviewed, 39 had been reengaged without
loss of time for temporary work with the telephone company, as
there was need of extra operators to take calls until customers became more familiar with the dials. Also, summer vacations had begun and substitutes were necessary to replace regular operators.
Eventually it was found possible to retain permanently 18 of the
temporary workers visited, and a year after the cut-over they still
were employed by the telephone company. Of the other 21, 15 were
kept for less than a month, 5 for 1 to 4 months, and 1 resigned voluntarily.
The disposition of the other 39 5 operators whose employment terminated at the time of the cut-over was as follows:
Offered telephone positions in other cities___ _______ __________


Accepted __ ___ _______ ___ __ ------- - --------------------Refused ___ ___ __ ___ ____ _____ ___ ________ ___ __ ____ _______


Offered both nontelephone positions and telephone positions
in other cities_ -- - ------- - - - - - ---- --------------- - ----- --


Accepted___ ________ ___ ____ __ _____ __ ____ ________ _______
Refused______ ___ __ __ __ ____ ________ _____ _______ ________


Acquired positions through their own efforts__ ______ _________


The period at which the cut-over took place was unfortunate. By
the summer of 1930 the difficulty of obtaining work was much greater
than it would have been a year earlier. A scarcity of jobs was
developing all over the country, and in the city where this cut-over
took place there was, in addition to the effect of the depression, a
normal lack of positions for women. The city was one principally
of men's employment, with industries where there were few opportunities for women. In spite of this fact, many of the operators who
were laid off wished to find their own jobs, or wanted to rest for a
while before taking a new position, or for other reasons did not care
to consider the opportunities offered by the telephone company in
other cities or in nontelephone work in their own city. The greatest
objection to taking work in other cities came from the mothers of
the girls, who were unwilling to have them leave home, and from
the fact that wages were too low to allow of the paying of board
and room. In some cases the girls were too young to leave home
and in others they could not be spared, either because their services
were needed or because their e·a rnings would then be paid for board
and room to strangers and not go to the family budget. A number
of the girls who were living at home said that if they took a job in

Other than 39 reengaged by the telephone company.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis



another city they would have nothing left, either for clothes or to
send home, after they had paid their board and lodging. In most
cases where nontelephone work was offered the work was not of a
type desired, and the girls felt that they could do better if they
themselves looked for jobs.
All the operators regretted having to leave the telephone company;
one girl said, "Telephone work is the only thing I'll ever like." It
was very difficult to find employment, and the experience of one girl
was that of many: "I've walked and walked, looking for a Job.
I've even thought of trying housework, but that only pays room
and board. I may have to take it, but I don't want to."
The hardships in seeking employment consisted not only of "walking and walking " but in many cases of weeks without work and
without pay. Of the 38 girls who lost time between the cut-over
and their next job, 10 lost 6 months but less than a year before finding
work and 3 were without work the whole year.
The extent of lost time for industrial reasons in the year following
the cut-over was r eported by all but 1 of the 78 women interviewed.
Forty-three of them lost at least 3 months, 21 of these losing 10
months or more. Of all the 77 women reporting, only 21 had worked
the entire year without losing time.
The st eadiest work was reported by the girls who stayed on as temporary operators with the telephone company in the same city, and
18 of the 21 who reported work for the entire 12-month period after
the cut-over were in this-group. Of the 25 women who during the
year worked only in jobs other than with the telephone company,
only 2 had a full year's work and 16 worked for less than 7 months.
A third group of the operators laid off worked part of the year with
the telephone company, in the same or other cities, and part of the
year on nontelephone work, and these women reported less employment during the year than did either the women only with the telephone company or those only in nontelephone work.
Although the wages of those who remained with the telephone
company m the same city were not changed, the wages of those transferred to other cities or towns or of those employed in other kinds
of work showed considerable differences from their pay before the
cut-over. A number of women transferred to t elephone work in
other cities or taking jobs with other companies in the same city
had a marked decline in earnings; in telephone jobs the smaller cities
had lower schedules in some cases. For the 48 women in telephone
work, either in the same city or transferred to other towns and cities,
the earnings after the cut-over were as follows t
· Same _____ ___ ____ ___ _____ ___ _______ ___ ____ _____ 31
L ess ____ ___ _________ ___ ___ ____ _______ _____ _____ 11

~1ore_____ ___ _______ __ ______ ____ _____ __________


Of the 29 women who at time of the final interview were not in
the employ of the telephone company and who reported their earnings, as many as 25 were receiving less than formerly. Two earned
the same as before and two had higher earnings. Five who had received from $15 to $16 a week as telephone operators, a year later
reported earnings of from $6.25 to between $13 and $14; and 7 of 8
whose earnings with the telephone company had been from $17 to
$18 were earning with other companies from $7 to $14 or $15.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis



The list following shows the kinds of employment of the 33 operators ( the 29 just discussed and 4 others) who were not in the employ
of the telephone company a year after the cut-over:
Sales in stores ______ _________ ___ _
Clerical ___ _______ ______________ _
Private bra nch ex change___ ___ ___
Factory_________ ___ __ __________ __


I B eauty

parlor _______ ____________
Waitress--- ----- - - --- ---------- Training for nurse____________ ___
Helping in h ospital pharmacy __ __ -


It is not surprising to find, with this wide variety of jobs and in
most instances a decrease in pay, a strong preference for telephone
work. A number of the operators expressed no preference because
of no other experience, but of 38 women who made a comparison, 33
preferred telephone work to other work. Fourteen declared that the
telephone work was interesting and the working conditions were
pleasant, and one girl summed it up by saying, "I liked the bosses,
I liked the pay, I liked the girls; oh, gee, I even liked the building."
Five girls spoke especially of the pleasant working conditions, and
one girl who went to work in a factory said, "In telephone work
you've no hard work and no dirt." Seven girls spoke of the better
pay in telephone work and four of the shorter hours. One girl who
had worked on" information" at the telephone company said it wa~
the best of all jobs : " K ept you smart and alert and taught you to
spell, looking up names all day."
There were 5 girls of the 38 reporting who preferred their new
jobs. The reasons they gave were "No Sunday or holiday work";
" Better hours, nicer work"; and "More definite hours and less
strain." One girl, though declaring that "The telephone company
is a very nice place to work ", said she appreciated the uniformity
of hours in her later job.
On the whole, the opinions of the majority were strongly in favor
of telephone work over any other, and the sentiments of many were
expressed by the girl who said, "I was heart-broken when I lost
my job. It was so nice there. You had different types of people
over the lines all the time; always enough work to keep you interested; it's more interesting to be busy than slow." But the f eeling
of many of them was expressed by a former telephone operator who
commented, " New inventions are good for something, but they are
not working good for poor people."
Technological changes in the telephone system, as in other industries, are made because of their increased efficiency. As the lastmentioned operator said, "They are good for something." The
following are the r esults to the consumer of the change to the dial
system as reported by a company bulletin: "It [the dial] is somewhat more accurate than manual service and when fully installed in
a given place the dial service is quicker. During hours of light
use, such as nights, Sundays, and holidays when manual boards have
to be operated with a skeleton force, and therefore with a somewhat
slower service, the dial service is just as rapid as during the busier
hours of the day. The dial system is also proving more adaptable
to improvements and developments to keep pace with the rapidly
incr easing requirements of the telephone service."
The result to the operators laid off has been shown, but there was
also some difference resulting from the change to the operators who
stayed with the company. On the whole, the effect was an improvement in the working conditions. Operators formerly worked on the
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis



outgoing switchboard (A board), the incoming switchboar.d (B
board), and the toll or long-distance switchboard. Under both systems, the old er manual and the dial system, there was also the
information service. With the change to the dial system, the A and
B boards were no longer necessary, and the toll board cared for the
requests for assistance that formerly would have gone to the B board.
This necessitated more toll operators and also gave the toll operators more varied work. The change to dial, with the work principally .long-distance calls, resulted in a smaller proportion of split
tricks (morning-evening shifts, work periods with a break of from
4 to 5 hours between the periods) and of Sunday work than was
found under the older system. The proportion of night workers increased slightly with the introduction of the dial system, although
the actual number of night employees declined from 27 to 15.
Percent of women

=== == ==
===--=== =
==== =
======== =
---- =
- ==
Night shifts . ___ _______ ---- -- -- - --- ----- ---- ------ - -- -------- - - ---- -- -- ----- - ----

Sunday work ______ ___________ ___ - -- - -- --- -- -- -- - -- --- ---- ---- -- - --- ---- --- - -- --



N ew



27. 1
23. 9
4. 9
51. 0

49. 8
20. 1
24. 1
6. 0
36. 9- 47. 0

Operators who formerly had been on the A or B boards noticed
more change with the new method than did the operators formerly
on toll, the principal difference being that in addition to plugging
in on the switchboard it was necessary now to operate a dial to connect the incoming call with the city subscriber. One operator, who
found the calls coming in on the toll board much more interesting than
over the A and B boards, said : " You talk with operators all over the
country; there is difference ip pronunciation and accent; you hear
new things and new places. Sometime I hope to get a trans-Atlantic
For most of the operators formerly on the A and B boards the new
work was easier than the old. " Work is easier on toll now; the
board is smaller, not so much reaching. U sed to repeat numbers
all day long, now just say 'right'", was the opinion of one girl.
Probably because of the very lack of monotony on the toll board
compared to the A or B, another ~irl found it harder, but the majority
agreed with the operat'Or who said, '' For us the dials are better."
The telephone operator as a rule is a young woman. Few under
18 years are employed, but rarely is one hired who is over 25. In
January 1930, 6 months before the cut-over, about 60 percent of the
operators were under 25 years of age and only 2.7 percent were 40
or more. In .1 annary 1931, 6 months after the cut-over, a little less
than 40 percent were under 25 years and 4.8 percent were 40 or more,
illustratmg the fact that the transfers and lay-offs had been among
the younger women. Of those laid o-ff, 69.8 percent were under
25 years of age and 42.2 percent were under 20 years, the natural
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis



result of the taking on of young women for temporary work after
October 1927.
In spite of the youth of those laid off, it was not easy, even with
every assistance given by the telephone company, for them to find
work. In factories where new methods of work result in lay-offs,
it is frequently the older and less adaptable worker who is first discharged. The experience of this group of telephone operators is
indicative of the large body of women, many of them much older,
who lose their jobs through changes in industry and for whom there
are apparently no other immediate openings. The best effort of
industry cannot prevent temporary unemployment from technological
causes, but the public that benefits by more efficient methods should
be aware of its responsibility and not allow the worker to bear the
entire burden of change and progress.

Two years before the change to the dial system in about one third
of the stations in this city, arrangements were made for a new building to house the heavy mechanical equipment required, and at the
same time plans were made to take care of the employment problems
that would arise in the change. It was realized that it would be
necessary to hire some new operators before the cut-over, on account
of the normal business increase and the usual need for the replacement of those leaving the company, so all those hired in the 2-year
period before the change were to be told that their employment probably was only temporary and might terminate at the time of the cutover to the dial method.
In hours of work, earnings, and all other respects, the conditions
of work of the operators hired with this understanding of only
temporary work were the same as those of the regular employees.
Six months before the actual cut-over it was found that by careful
planning all these temporary employees could be kept. Some could
be transferred to other central offices in the city or to nearby towns;
extra operators would be needed on the intercept positions and in
the information service, and more operators would be used on the
toll board as this service increased; the coin boxes were to be cut
over gradually, and some of these operators would be needed until 2
months later, when the transfer, was complete; a careful arrangement of vacations to begin immediately after the cut-over would give
work to some until the normal separations would open regular positions; and the telephone company of a neighboring State agreed to
employ a number of operators in a resort for the summer, by the
end of which time it was thought positions with the home company
would be made available through normal turn-over.
By these various means it was planned to retain the 125 temporary
operators employed in the offices in which the service was to become
dial, as well as some temporary operators in offices where the manual
system would remain, but which were affected by the change because of the probable transfer of displaced operators whose seniority
would entitle them to employment in these offices.
When a change takes place in a factory it usually is possible to
tl'ain people gradually as they learn the new job, but in a service
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis



industry such as the telephone the training must be done in advance
of the change so that the public may not suffer through the inexperience of the operators. For this r eason , the use of the dial had to
be taught to the regular oper ators. This required 34 instructors, and
it was necessary to fill, temporarily, n ot only their positions but the
positions of the operators durin g this time of learning. It took about
35 hours for an operator to learn to handle efficiently the work of
the new system; and 350 operators received this training, which was
given for a few hours each day over a period of 2½ months.
Six months before the cut-over, the total number of operators in
the offices that were to have dial operating was 424. This number
was considerably la,rger than would be needed under the dial system, so it was necessary to provide not only for the 125 t emporary
operators but for a number of the regular employees. These were
cared for by the same methods already described as providing work
for the tern.porary operators. From this time, 6 months before the
cut-over, when it was found that it would be possible to k eep both
regular and t emporary operators, the status of the latter was changed
to r egular.
After November 22, 1929, somewhat less than 6 months before the
change, obviously it was impracticable to train new people for such
a short period. The hiring of new operators was restricted as much
as possible, and the few that were hired were told their employment
would end in May when the cut-over occurred. To keep down the
number of new opera~ors, 137 ex-employees avai~able for occasional
employment were notified and came back for periods of from 1 to 5
weeks, and j2 operators were borrowed from a neighboring city for
3 weeks before the cut-over.
When the time of the cut-over finally arrived, May 3, 1930, there
were 435 operators in the offices to be changed to dial, and only 33
of these had been taken on since November 22, 1929, and so were
scheduled to be laid off. In other offices also there were son~e operators hired since that date who were temporary employees and could
not be r et ained. I n all, 61 operators were to lose their t emporary
jobs and must look for other work.
That the total operating force in the cut-over offices h ad to be
reduced to a large extent is apparent from the following figures:
Before change, November 1929 _____ ___ __________ ____ ______ __
At time of change, Ma y 1930 ____ __ ___ ___ _________ __ __ __ ______
Immediately a f t er ~1ay 1930 ___ __ ____ __ _____ ____ ___ ___ ______
After November 1930__ ____ ________ ___ ___ ___ __ ____ ________ __


These reductions were accomplished as already described, and in
this process the company found itself able to provide jobs not only
for the temporary operators whose status had been changed to regular but for 27 of the 33 hired since November for service only until
May. 6
The fa ct that the cut-over occurred in the business section of the
city resulted in a large percent ( 65.3) of the employees being operators with length of service of 2 years and over; nearly one third of
the entire number had been ,with the company for at least 5 years.
At the time of the cut-over, nearly two thirds of the operators
were retained at the dial offices and were given work either on the

10 of the 27 ""ere r et ained in the cut-over oflices .
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis



toll board or on the boards handling the calls from dial to manual
or the other way about. One third were transferred to other offices
in the city or nearby towns, 9r to temporary work-as aid to subscribers or on intercept positions--until permanent places should
become vacant. Only 6 operators from the cut-over offices and 55
from other offices in the city were off.
Although it was impossible to retain these 61 operators, all of
whom had been taken on as temporary workers within the preceding
6 months, the telephone company still felt a responsibility. As was
true of the complete cut-over in the other city, the period at which
the change occurred was unfortunate. In the spring of 1930 positions were beginning to be scarce, and the chances of securing work
were much less than if the cut-over had occurred in 1929. The telephone company realized this situation and gave as much work as
possible to its former employees. In spite of the fact that 56 of the
operators laid off were under 25 years of age, and none were over
30 years, it was not easy :for them to find work. A canvass of openJngs was made by the employment supervisor and 8 girls were placed
in stores as salesgirls, on private branch exchanges as switchboard
operators, or ·in other work not with the telephone company. Ten
were recailed :for t emporary work with the company, 11 were tmnsferred to other offices in neighboring towns, and 32 were without jobs.
The names of all the 61 were kept by the telephone company, and
at the end of 10 months its r ecords showed the following disposition
of the operators :
R eem ployed by company________ 26
Transferred in company_________ 10
P ositions with other employers___
Declined position with telephone

Ineligible for work with telephone company (poor work) ___
Could not be located___ _____ _____


Within a year, therefore, 44 of the 58 women who could be located
were employed, and 36 of them were with the telephone company.
During the year many of the women had been out of work for
longer or shorter periods. Twenty-seven of them were visited, and
information was obtained of their lost time between jobs, differences in pay , and preferences for various kinds of work as compared with t elephone. Of the 17 reporting time lost between
lay-off and first subsequent job, 5 lost from 4 to 8 months, 8 lost
from 1 to 3 months, and 4 lost less than a month. In a number of
cases the first job either could not be kept or was not satisfactory,
so that other work was sought. Some of the telephone work in
other exchanges was not accepted, because of differences of pay in
the smaller towns or because it was night work and solitary.
In nontelephone work the pay was less in 6 cases in a total of 9
positions. For all 27 women visited, the first work immediately
after the cut-over showed the following comparisons with the pay
in the former telephone job.
Same ___ ____________ _______ _ 10 women, all in telephone.
Less ______ __________________ 12 women, 6 in telephone and 6 not.
More_________ ______________ 5 women, 2 in telephone and 3 not.

The 17 telephone operators who had received a different rate
were those who had been transferred either to another town or to
another type of work, while the 10 retained for temporary work
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis



with the company were paid their former salaries. The declines in
the earnings of women having nontelephone jobs were greater than
the decline in salaries on telephone work. Of the 6 women in nontelephone work who received less, 2 had been earning $22 a week
and had come down to $12 and $13.50, respectively, while of 4
whose salaries had been $16 a week, 2 women earned $10, 1 $11, and
1 $15.
During the 13 months that elapsed between the cut-over and the
interviews with the workers there was considerable shifting of jobs
and unemployment. Nineteen of the 27 women had more than one
job, 2 women reporting 4 different work periods. During the 13
months, 16 of the women worked less than 8 months and only 3
worked through the entire period. This lack of employment was not
always due to the impossibility of obtaining work but occasionally
was due to personal reasons. However, of the 22 women who
reported that they had lost time, only 1 said she had lost no time
for industrial reasons.
During the 13 months following the cut-over, all but 4 of the
workers visited had been employed for either a longer or a shorter
period by the telephone company. No time was lost after the cut:.
over by 10 women, who were immediately given temporary work,
but of this number only 2 were employed continuously for the 13
months. Others were called back at various intervals, 1 waiting
only a week before being summoned, while 3 were not called back
for 7 months and 2 not for 10 months. A few ( 4 women) were not
sent for, and these probably were among the 10 women considered
ineligible because of poor work. At the time of the interviews with
the former operators, 19 of the 27 reported work with the telephone
company, 6 were unemployed, and 2 had other employment.
A few women compared their experience in different kinds of work
as compared with telephone and explained the basis of their preference. Telephone work was liked because of better pay, or because they were familiar with the work, or because hours of work
were better. One reason for preferring nontelephone work was
better chance of employment, by which was meant future openings,
and another was shorter and more definite hours, the latter having
reference to the system j.n the telephone company of changing shifts
every few months. However, the majority (8 out of 10) gave opinions in favor of telephone work.
There was some shifting in the proportions who worked at night
and on Sunday among the operators who remained in the offices
when the dial system was installed. Because of the elimination of
operators to attend to the city calls ( except to give information and
aid to the subscribers), and their principal employment on the longdistance switchboard, the · proportion of night operators was less
after the cut-over than before and the percent of Sunday operators
was higher. The split trick consists in work in two periods with an
interval of from 4 to 5 hours, and usually it is considered less desirable than a single shift. In November, before the change, over one
third (37.4 percent) of the operators were employed on split tricks,
while after the cut-over a slightly larger proportion (39 percent)
worked these hours.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis




Night work _________________________________________________________________ ___ _
Split trick __ __________________________ __________________________________________ _
Sunday work _______ -------------------------------- __ --------------------------







37. 4
36. 3

39. 0
40. 6

Aside from these changes, the hours were the same for the operators before and after the cut-over, namely, 8 hours on day and
night shifts, with 15 minutes off in the morning and in the afternoon,
and 7 hour·s on evening and split shifts. Lunch periods were an
hour in length and there was a 15-minute break in each 3- or 4-hour
work period.

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis