Reps. Cleaver, Graves, Davids, Mace Re-Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Honor the ‘Hello Girls’ with the Congressional Gold Medal

Published: 16 March 2023

via the office of U.S. Representatives Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO)

(Clockwise from top left) U.S. Representatives Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO), Sam Graves (R-MO), Sharice Davids (D-KS), and Nancy Mace (R-SC).

March 16, 2023 – Today, during Women’s History Month, U.S. Representatives Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO), Sam Graves (R-MO), Sharice Davids (D-KS), and Nancy Mace (R-SC) introduced H.R. 1572, a bipartisan bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress, to more than 220 American women who served as essential telephone operators with the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War I. Known as the “Hello Girls,” the women were the first female soldiers to be officially deployed to a combat zone in American history and were instrumental in the allied war effort throughout WWI. Companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).

“When our allies and armed forces where in desperate need of modern communication capabilities during World War I, the Hello Girls answered the call to defend freedom abroad. Yet, for nearly six decades, these brave women were denied their rightful recognition as soldiers and earned benefits as veterans. Today, on behalf of a grateful nation, I’m proud to join a bipartisan, bicameral band of lawmakers to introduce legislation that would finally honor these heroic women with a Congressional Gold Medal for their service to the American people during a time of grave uncertainty,” said Congressman Cleaver. “As we celebrate the tremendous contributions of women during Women’s History Month, I can think of few Americans who are more deserving of this honor bestowed by Congress, and I hope by awarding these patriots the Congressional Gold Medal, more Americans will know the story of the Hello Girls.”

“The Hello Girls took a military oath and risked their lives to protect our nation by leading critical efforts on the front lines that helped our allied forces win the war,” said Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Tester. “That’s why I’m proud we’re continuing our bipartisan push to honor these extraordinary women who were denied veteran status for far too long. They blazed a new path for women on the front lines, and the Congressional Gold Medal will honor their service and fight for recognition as veterans.”

“The Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit, more commonly known as the Hello Girls, provided a crucial link to American troops fighting on the front lines of World War I,” said Congressman Graves. “When General John J. Pershing realized communication breakdowns were hampering the war effort, he knew the Army needed experienced telephone operators. These brave young women answered the call and served with honor and distinction. Yet, their service went unrecognized for decades until they were finally recognized as veterans in 1977. Now, I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing legislation to award the Hello Girls with the Congressional Gold Medal.”

“The Hello Girls were essential members of our military operations in World War I, working faster and more accurately than their male counterparts to keep communications open. Unfortunately, they did not receive the recognition or status they earned as some of our nation’s first women veterans for many years. I’m glad to join my colleagues today in putting credit where it’s due for the Hello Girls and their record of outstanding service to our nation,” said Representative Sharice Davids.

“Congress and the President tasked the World War I Centennial Commission to recommend appropriate ways to honor those who served and sacrificed in World War I.” said the Chairman of the Commission, Terry Hamby. “The Commission unanimously recommended the award of a Congressional Gold Medal for the heroic women, known as the “Hello Girls”.  They were the first female soldiers in the US Army to work in a combat zone as part of the AEF Signal Corp.  They operated the battlefield communication system between the French and US Army Commanders on the Western Front.  The Hello Girls took the oath as soldiers, were given uniforms, but because of social prejudices were denied the status of ‘veteran’ after the war. Finally, after almost 50 years, and when most of the Hello Girls had passed away, Congress passed a bill in 1977 recognizing them as veterans.”

“America’s first women soldiers sailed home from the empty and now quiet battlefields of France in a week,” said Dr. Elizabeth Cobbs, Ph.D., author of the Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers. “They fought seventy years for the Victory Medals granted every man at their side. Now is our chance to show appreciation for the first women to wear the nation’s dog-tags.”

Formally known as the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators, the Hello Girls were recruited by General John J. Pershing in 1917 as the first group of women to hold non-medical positions in the U.S. Army. With telecommunication in battle still relatively new at the time, General Pershing was looking for experienced individuals that could improve communication on the front lines. As the telephone operator field was dominated by women at the time, General Pershing made the decision to form the specialized unit comprised solely of women for the first time in American history. It was required that the women be bilingual in both French and English so that they could effectively communicate and coordinate with French and American forces. By the end of the war, the Hello Girls had connected over 26 million calls in support of the war effort, and even continued to serve in Europe to organize the return of American forces following the armistice.

The Hello Girls Congressional Gold Medal Act is endorsed by the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, AMVETS, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, National World War I Museum and Memorial, Foundation for the Commemoration of the World Wars, Women in Military Service for America Foundation, Military Women’s Memorial, and the Fort Gordon Historical Museum Society.

Official text of the Hello Girls Congressional Gold Medal Act is available here.

Emanuel Cleaver, II is the U.S. Representative for Missouri’s Fifth Congressional District, which includes Kansas City, Independence, Lee’s Summit, Raytown, Grandview, Sugar Creek, Greenwood, Blue Springs, North Kansas City, Gladstone, and Claycomo. He is a member of the exclusive House Financial Services Committee and Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance.

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