For 60 years the Hello Girls fought for veterans status

Published: 17 April 2024

By Emma Molloy
via the Sonoma Index-Tribune newspaper (CA) website


Director of the Sonoma Arts Live Production of ‘The Hello Girls’ Maeve Smith at the graveyard on East Napa Street where Hello Girl Juliette Louise Courtial Smith is buried in an unmarked grave. With the support of the American Legion, Smith spearheaded the effort to get Courtial a proper headstone, and the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission is seeking support to get Congressional Gold Medal legislation for the Hello Girls for their service. Photo taken on Monday, April 8, 2024. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

The first U.S. female soldiers of World War I could be awarded with the Congressional Gold Medal for their distinguished service to the country and their impact on American history and culture.

The Hello Girls were sworn into the U.S. Army Signal Corps as telephone switchboard operators in World War I ― playing a vital role in the ending of the war. This group of 223 women were the first female soldiers in the U.S., and 37 of them called California home.

When these brave women returned home, they were told they had not served in the Army, despite wearing uniforms, taking Army oaths, and previously being told, “You’re in the Army now.”

WWI Hello Girl Juliette Louise Courtial Smith is buried in Sonoma, CA, one of 39 Hello Girls who came from California.

The Hello Girls fought for more than 60 years to get their veterans status, with more than 50 bills being introduced into Congress that did not pass. Finally, in 1977, bipartisan legislation passed and was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter. However, most of the Hello Girls did not live to see the day of this victory; and those who did weren’t given veteran benefits or back paychecks.

Many of the Hello Girls are buried without veterans recognition on their headstones, still fighting for acknowledgment over 100 years later.

One of the California Hello Girls Juliette Louise Courtial Smith was discovered buried in Sonoma in an unmarked grave; without recognition for her service ― or a headstone at all.

Sonoman Maeve Smith, who is directing the Sonoma Arts Live production of the Broadway musical, “The Hello Girls,” came across Courtial’s resting place while conducting research for the play.

Smith said making this discovery felt “very Sonoma,” with all the intertwining connections and history here. Courtial is buried in the Saint Francis Solano Cemetery located couple of blocks away from the Community Center where the play is showing April 19 through May 5.

Smith worked with the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission (WWICC) and the American Legion to get Courtial a proper headstone. The WWICC is doing national work on getting the Hello Girls recognition including an effort to get these women the Congressional Gold Medal.

Grace Banker was the Hello Girl Chief Operator of mobile for the American Expeditionary Forces in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War I. She led a team of thirty-three women telephone operators. Banker was awarded the U.S. Army’s Distinguished Service Medal for ‘exceptionally meritorious service to the Government in a duty of great responsibility in connection withthe operations against an armed enemy of the U.S.’ (Photo courtesy Carolyn Timbie)

“Since the seventies, people are going back to try to give these women their status, their recognition, their benefits that they deserve, which means their families deserve,” Smith said. “And there are other women that the committee is doing this for all over the country. So it’s just a complete coincidence, that we found out Juliette is here, that we’re doing this production and that we might be able to do this work for her.”

Members of the WWICC, the Doughboy Foundation and descendants of the Hello Girls attended the Call on the Hill for the Hello Girls on Jan. 18, where they walked the halls of the U.S. Senate office buildings to encourage Senators to co-sponsor Senate Bill (S.815) “The Hello Girls Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2023.”

The Senate Resolution states the Hello Girls merit the recognition of a Congressional Gold Medal for “their role as pioneers who paved the way for all women in uniform, and for service that was essential to victory in World War I.”

Carolyn Timbie, the granddaughter of Hello Girl Chief Operator Grace Banker who will be portrayed in the Sonoma Arts Live production, said legislation for the Congressional Gold Medal now has 51 co-sponsors in the Senate and 96 in the House of Representatives.

“We are making progress, but we are really trying to get more people,” Timbie said. “We usually have props, I show my grandmother’s helmet, we show our photos, we tell our stories, and most people say, ‘Oh my gosh, how did I not know about this? And how can we not support this?’”

Hello Girl descendants, the WWICC and the Doughboy Foundation are working to uncover where these women are buried and getting them proper headstones with veterans recognition.

Read the entire article on the Sonoma Index-Tribune website here:

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