Tester, Moran, Hassan, Blackburn Lead Bipartisan Effort to Honor the ‘Hello Girls’

Published: 16 March 2023

via the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs web site

Senator John Tester of Montana

Tester photo

Senator John Tester of Montana (left) discusses the new Hello Girls Congressional Gold Medal legislation with Executive Director Dan Dayton (second from right) and Russ Orban (right) of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission.

Senators introduced bipartisan bill to award women of the U.S. Army Signal Corps with Congressional Gold Medal for their service to the nation in World War

(U.S. Senate) – This women’s history month, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) are introducing bipartisan legislation to honor the landmark service of the brave women who connected American and French military forces on the front lines of World War I.

The Senators’ Hello Girls Congressional Gold Medal Act would award the women of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, dubbed the Hello Girls, with the Congressional Gold Medal for their service to the nation and subsequent 60 year fight to be recognized as veterans.

“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 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.”

“Connecting more than 150,000 calls per day, and doing so six times faster than their male counterparts, female switchboard operators played a crucial role in WWI,” said Ranking Member Moran. “Despite their service, it took decades for them to receive veteran status and therefore be recognized as some of our nation’s first women veterans. This Congressional Gold Medal will serve as way to honor the trailblazing Hello Girls and recognize their important contributions to our history.” 

“The Hello Girls, including its Chief Operator Grace Banker, were American heroes who served as a crucial link between American and French forces on the front lines,” said Senator Hassan. “These talented women used their multilingual skills to advance American interests during World War I, and I am proud to join bipartisan efforts to honor their bravery and patriotism.” 

“This bill gives us the opportunity to honor the Hello Girls in our history books,” said Senator Blackburn. “These women played a key role in the communications efforts that enabled the American and French forces to enter into battle with the intelligence needed to succeed. The Hello Girls Congressional Gold Medal Act ensures that their critical role in World War I will not go unnoticed by those who study American history in the years to come.”

The Hello Girls were recruited after male infantrymen struggled to connect calls quickly and communicate with their French counterparts. The bilingual Hello Girls were deployed to France to serve at military headquarters and command outposts in the field alongside the American Expeditionary Forces. Despite their outstanding service and the military oath they took, they were denied veteran status and benefits when they returned home.

Merle Egan Anderson of Montana led the legislative effort, petitioning Congress more than 50 times, to get proper recognition of their service. In 1977, 60 years after the first Hello Girls took the Army oath, Congress passed legislation to retroactively acknowledge the military service of the women of the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

The Senators’ efforts to honor the Hello Girls received strong support from various stakeholders nationwide.

“I’d like to thank Chairman Tester for leading the bipartisan effort alongside Senators Moran, Hassan, and Blackburn to introduce the Hello Girls Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2023,” said The American Legion’s National Commander Vincent J. “Jim” Troiola. “This legislation will honor the approximately 200 women who served in World War I as telephone operators. During their service, these brave women facilitated 150,000 calls each day, translating the messages of American and French military officers, connecting 26 million calls in total. The American Legion believes it is essential to finally honor these women in uniform.”

“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.”

“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.’ These brave women took the oath as soldiers, were given uniforms, but because of social  prejudices were denied the status of ‘veteran’ after the war. We’re glad Senators Tester, Moran, Hassan, and Blackburn are leading the bipartisan effort to ensure the Hello Girls are properly recognized for their service and sacrifice.”

“I am so proud of my grandmother, Grace Banker, and the women of the Signal Corp with whom she served in WWI,” said Carolyn Timbie, granddaughter of Grace Banker, who was the Chief Operator of the Hello Girls. “They fought for 60 years to get their recognition as veterans, and I only wish my grandmother had lived to see this day. I’m excited knowing the world will now hear their story, with the distinction of a Congressional Gold Medal, along with the children, grandchildren and other descendants of these heroic women whose recognition is long-overdue!”

Read the entire article on the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs web site here:

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