I agree with her assessment. The tone of that first letter certainly leans toward stalker-ish and continues into this next one, written ten months after the first. Charles is now sixteen, Dora twenty-four. I wonder… were the letters in between lost? Or did Dora stop writing for a bit?
The mind games from the first letter–Charles sending Dora other girls’ letters, and Dora hinting at things she wanted to say but didn’t–continue in letter number two, but we’ll get to that drama in a minute.
Let’s first learn more about the job of the operator. I don’t know about you, but I found the fact of a teenaged boy being a telephone operator really interesting, so I did a bit of research and found this from an August 2017 History Channel article:
Telephone Operators Used to be Rude Teenage Boys
I don’t know what the founder of the Telephone Despatch Company, Edward Holmes, was thinking when he hired teenaged boys for the job. Yes, they’d been operating the telegraph machines, but they didn’t have to talk to people. Just run the machines. Regardless of era, boys that age have never been known for being well-mannered or present themselves with decorum. Well, Mr. Holmes’ choice of staff turned out to be a bad one, surprise surprise. The more boys in the room, the more the roughhousing and profanity accelerated, and the more the customers started to complain.
From Your Call is (Not That) Important to Us, by Emily Yellin:
In 1878, Alexander Graham Bell put a stop to their shenanigans by hiring the first woman operator, Emma Nutt.
With her hiring, the profession shifted away from boys to women–although not entirely considering Charlie was an operator after the turn of the century. Maybe he was more polite.
The “Hello Girls”
Women not only had a more pleasant manner, and didn’t talk back to their customers, they were cheaper to employ–yes, even cheaper than the teenaged boys. Women flocked to the profession, finding it more dignified than working in a factory or domestic service, but the jobs weren’t easy to come by. With so many women applying, the companies were very selective. In addition to being pleasant, they had to dress prim and proper, and have impeccable elocution. They also had to be unmarried, between eighteen and twenty-six. If they married, they were let go.
Imagine working twelve hours a day, six days a week for around 10 dollars a month and saying over a hundred times a day, “Number pleeeyazz?” (They were instructed to draw out certain words since the lines were noisy.)
There were also physical requirements of the job. From the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities:
The operators had an intimate perspective on their community, though, since they had complete control of the call, including the ability to listen in on private conversations, which is what I’m guessing Dora is referring to when she describes a call in this letter.
Notes about the Letter
The Burns mentioned is Dr and Mrs. Eastman’s son. Carrie is a fellow operator with Charles in Bradford. I’m not sure who Mr. Arthur is. Newbury and Warren are other telephone exchanges.
And without further ado:
I wonder what the heck happened on May 26?? It’s maddening not having both sides of the conversation. Dora’s desperate need to get more information of Charles certainly borders on stalkerish (okay, a lot stalkerish), but I feel bad for her. She seems lonely, don’t you think?
I hope Charlie is kind to her. And that she’d not completely out of her mind. Curious to hear your thoughts as well. If you have something to add, by all means, comment below.
Until next time…
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