“Sonoma Answers the Call” — The Hello Girls: A New American Musical

Published: 9 February 2024

By Maeve Smith
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site


Scene from "The Hello Girls: A Musical."

This Spring 2024, Sonoma Arts Live will “Answer the Call.” Once in a lifetime, a special show comes across your desk or nowadays, your favorite streaming app, and your life will never be the same. I am getting that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to say, “Hello” to the “Hello Girls.” My name is Maeve Smith, and I am a recovering New York theatre professional turned California wine professional. My husband, Andrew, and I, and our two daughters, reside in a small California town in the heart of wine country.

Maeve Smith will direct “The Hello Girls” at Sonoma Arts Live in Sonoma, CA.

Andrew and I have a tradition where we exchange CDs at Christmas (yes, CDs aka Compact Discs) trying to outdo the other with the newest or most obscure Broadway Musicals to add to our collection. You see, we are theatre nerds, as I like to say, or theatre professionals, as my husband likes to say.

Enter, The Hello Girls two years ago when they came into my life. It was Christmas of 2022, and I received a new cast recording, on CD, that was a huge hit Off-Broadway in 2018. On a cold winter evening, I pour myself a glass (or two) of wine and go to the Wine Lounge. This is a cherished spot in our house with two chairs on a rectangular rug and a record player with a CD-playing option. All our friends know about The Wine Lounge at The Smith House. It is the ONLY scrap of an area in our house that is for the grown-ups. Now picture this because my daughters are only 3 and 6 at this point and by some theatre god miracle, with my glass (or two) of wine I was able to sit in The Wine Lounge and listen to The Hello Girls cast album from the start to finish without being interrupted; oh and listen I did!

After listening to The Hello Girls, I began immersing myself in this story I had never heard of. As a huge history buff, I was shocked at my naiveté. I then found the book, The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers by Dr. Elizabeth Cobbs. Soon after the book, I discovered The Hello Girls documentary by Jim Theres. How could this story be SO underrepresented?

Perhaps this is your first time hearing about our “Hello Girls” too? Well, in WWI, a brave group of women volunteered to fight for their country before they even had the right to vote. During this time nearly all switchboard operators in the United States were women. Yet when the American Expeditionary Force deployed to France, they used male personnel to staff these vital parts of the telephone network, even though many of these men had never seen a switchboard.

When General Pershing arrived, he knew things had to change. Pershing issued a personal request for a small unit of women to serve as switchboard operators and real-time translators so that French and American officers could coordinate under fire. Over 7,600 women volunteered for the first 100 slots. Eventually, 223 women and 2 men would serve in the Signal Corps Telephone Operator Unit (Female) – colloquially known as the “Hello Girls.” They were the first unit of women to contribute directly to combat operations in American history.

In France, the Hello Girls connected over 26 million calls, averaging a speed of just ten seconds. That was six times faster than the men they replaced. Over 30 “Hello Girls” received individual commendations, and two made the ultimate sacrifice for their country while in Army service.

Yet they returned home to bad news. Despite serving under commissioned officers, wearing dog tags, rank insignia, and uniforms, swearing the Army Oath, and being subject to court-martial, the “Hello Girls” were told they had served as “civilian contractors” instead of soldiers. They were ignored for decades and forgotten by history.

We have another incredible discovery! One of our beloved “Hello Girls” is buried just down the street from our theatre at Saint Francis Solano Cemetery here in Sonoma, CA. She is Juliette Louise Courtial Smith. This incredible hero has been cheering us along the whole time waiting for us to “Answer the Call.”

Sonoma Arts Live theatre in Sonoma, CA

The “Hello Girls” answered the call for their country and now it’s time for Sonoma to answer the call for them, bringing this story to life in our community for the very first time. When Jaime Love, Artistic Director of Sonoma Arts Live Theater Company, texted me about a year ago asking if I had heard of the show, I said, “YES!” This was immediately followed by Jaime saying, “Do you think we can pull it off?” To which I said, “YES! And can I direct?

Sonoma is rich in history, community, and of course, the arts. It only took a year upon our arrival to Sonoma before we were introduced to the theatre community here and they welcomed us with open arms. We have found our theatre home at Sonoma Arts Live Theater Company, where my husband serves as the President of the Board of Directors. Jaime and Rick Love, who run the theatre, have become close friends, which leads us back to The Hello Girls.

You see, this story is SO important, and the job that Cara Reichel and Pete Mills have done telling it in musical form makes it a fascinating piece of theatre. Our actors will be performing it as it was originally done. It will be an immersive experience with actors playing musical instruments and captivating you in an untold journey. Let me tell you, Sonoma is in for a treat!

We have put together a group of outstanding performers and creatives. This will be some of the best talent that the San Francisco Bay Area has to offer and the privilege to bring this story to our Sonoma community is not lost on me.

So, how can you help?

1. Well, if you live around the Sonoma, CA area, see us from April 19th to May 5th, 2024!

2. 39 of the 223 “Hello Girls” came from California. Many of these women, these heroes, have lost the connection with their living relatives. I feel called to use this opportunity to connect even just one of these women. If you have any relation to them, please help us, we would love to hear from you. Email me directly at: [email protected]

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

These are our California “Hello Girls”:

● Inez Crittenden (Chief Operator)
● Charlotte E. Anderson
● Irma Rameline Armanet
● Ruth Boucher
● Jeanne Bouchet
● Marie Louise Bousquet
● Jessie Douglas Brown
● Marthe Mary Carroul
● Louise Rose Madeleine Chaix
● Evelyn Mary Tilleard Cooper
● Juliette Louise Courtial Smith
● Lucile M. de Jersey
● Miriam de Jersey
● Helma Greenland
● Laura Gridley
● Burtha Matignon Hunt
● Maude Edna Johnson
● Grace Bernice Knall
● Anna Laborde
● Marie Alexandrine Lange
● Marie Alexine Lassalle
● Louise Le Breton
● Raymonde Le Breton
● Jeanna Catherine Victoire Legallet
● Marie Joanie Lemaire
● Marguerite Mahoney
● Marguerite Marie Cecile Martin
● Pauline Jeanne Francoise McDonnell
● Marguerite H. Milner
● Lalla Rookh Munoz
● Helen Agnes Naismith
● Lillie Marie Elizabeth Poirier Noble
● Anne May Ostrander
● Laurence Helen Pechin
● Leonie Camille Peyron
● Bertha Plamondon
● Marie Louise Catharine Ruffe
● Hildegarde Van Brunt
● Melanie Marie Van Gastel

3. The Hello Girls deserve a Congressional Gold Medal. There are bills in the House and Senate and you can help by writing to your state’s Senator and your Representative.  Use this online toolbox to send your emails now!

Sonoma Arts Live will “Answer the Call” this Spring.  Will you?

Sonoma Arts Live theatre in Sonoma, CA, where “The Hello Girls: A Musical” will be performed April 19-May 5, 2024.

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