"You personally have been of material assistance in proving the success of the experiment of utilizing women with the Army."
One Particular 'Hello Girl' — The Story of 1LT Janet Jones
By Doug Stout
Special to the United States World War One Centennial Commission web site
Note: The U.S. WWI Centennial Commission began advocating in 2018 for the 'Hello Girls' to be recognized for their extraordinary WWI service with the Congressional Gold Medal. As such, we helped to create Senate Bill S. 206, and House Bill H.R. 1953, both collectively known as the “Hello Girls Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2019". We need your help to gather supporters & sponsors from the members of the U.S. Senate. and the U.S. House of Representatives. We are joined in this advocacy effort by some of the nation’s largest Veterans Service Organizations, including the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, together representing 3.2 million former service members. We hope that you will join us -- and ask your elected officials in Washington to sponsor S. 206 and H.R. 1953.—Chris Isleib, Director of Public Affairs, U.S. World War One Centennial Commission
Janet R. Jones was born in Newark on August 12, 1883, the third child of five born to John David Jones and Rachel Giffen Jones. Her mother died in 1889 when Janet was just 15 years old. In 1892, her father married his deceased wife's younger sister Jesse. The family lived in Granville where Janet attended Denison University receiving, a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology in 1904. Her passion wasn't Zoology however, but the French Language. In 1912 she began her teaching career at Newark High School as a French teacher. She furthered her education in the summer months, attending Columbia University in New York City. As a part of her studies, in 1913 she traveled to France and lived for two months in Paris.
Janet lived at 40 West Locust Street in 1917 when the United States entered World War I. In the fall of that year, as American troops began arriving in France, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force General John "Black Jack" Pershing encountered a problem that he wasn't expecting with his communications. The troops on the front line depended on telephones to communicate with their commanders and also with their British and French allies. The phone lines were tied into switchboards located throughout France. When a call came in, it was answered by an operator, the operator then transferred the call to the next appropriate operator by plugging the cord into the appropriate spot of the switchboard. Many times, the operator needed to phone the next switchboard operator and translate into French what the caller needed before transferring the call.
It was very labor intensive and important to move these calls as quickly as possible, men's lives depended on it. Pershing discovered that the soldiers from the signal corps were woefully slow in transferring calls and couldn't communicate with the French operators. He was informed that female operators in America could transfer a call many times faster than their male counterparts. Pershing asked his superiors for approximately 240 woman operators who were fluent in French to join the Army Signal Corps and be shipped overseas as soon as possible. The request was approved and advertisements were placed in major papers seeking woman for this assignment.
On December 10, 1917, Janet sent a letter to the address in the paper. "Having seen in the New York Times the notice that woman with a knowledge of French and English are wanted as telephone girls in France, I am writing for information and an application blank. I have had no experience as a telephone girl, but doubtless, I could learn the duties in a short time, and I know French. I teach French in the Newark High School, and I am 34-years-of-age and a graduate of Denison University. I have studied French in Paris and I take lectures in French every summer at Columbia University. I did not have time to communicate with the professors there, but if desired I can refer to those under whom I take work there."
Janet received the application she asked for and returned it, but by January 21, 1918, she had only received a letter her application had received a "favorable notice." Her struggles with the U.S. Army were just beginning.
Miss Janet Jones wasn't prepared to sit and wait for a response to her application for the Signal Corp. On January 21, 1918, the 34-year-old wrote checking on her application. The letter reads, in part, "since that time of application I have heard nothing from it, and the fact that my references have not been consulted leads me to suspect that the letter did not reach your office it is for that reason that I am writing."
Her file obtained from the National Archives is full of letters of recommendations and includes a letter from Janet stating that Mr. R.E. Moore in the Newark office of Bell Telephone was beginning to train her in the "standard switchboard service" and that she had Mr. Moore's endorsement.
The same day that she was writing her letter the Captain of the Signal Corps was writing a reply to her application. That letter stated that they had filed her application and that her application, "is not available for further attention immediately as we are giving first attention to certain applications which appear to meet all the qualifications most completely. If at some later date, your services may be required you will be immediately advised." It seemed that her lack of training as a telephone operator had disqualified her from service.
It appears that Janet had notified Major David J. Cordray asking for some help. Major Cordray was born in Granville and was a West Point graduate, a veteran of the Spanish American War, the China Boxer Rebellion and the conflict at the Mexican border. He had retired in 1913 and was living with his mother on North Fourth Street. When America became involved in World War I, Cordray took a posit ion as a confidential aide to a General Carter in Washington.
On January 30, Major Cordray sent a letter to Captain Wessen of the Signal Corps from the War Department inquiring whether any action had been taken on Miss Jones application. The Captain replied to the Major on February 1 that the "applications are examined carefully by a board of experts, in New York City. I have written this board asking for information on Miss Jones' case and will advise you what action has been taken thereon as soon as practicable."
The very next day a letter was sent to Janet from the Engineer of Traffic in New York City advising her that, "We are giving first attention to applicants who have had telephone experience. However, we are arranging to give a special course of training to certain other applicants who appear to meet the other qualifications satisfactorily. I am asking Mr. Eide, Superintendent of Traffic of the Central Union Telephone Company at Columbus, to arrange for an interview with you in regard to this matter."
On February 5, Captain Wessen wrote to Major Cordray that because of his "letter of the 30th, in favor of Miss Janet R. Jones", an interview was going to be set up to determine her eligibility for the Telephone Unit.
Janet, it seems, had passed another barrier of the U.S. Army, thanks to Major Cordray.
On February 19, 1918, the Newark Advocate reported the news of Janet's acceptance in the service, "Miss Janet Jones, teacher of French and Algebra at the Newark High School, has been notified by the U.S. government of her appointment to a position as French interpreter in the telephone division."
Janet received her Army physical in Columbus with a private physician. The 34-year-old was 5'3" tall and weighed 100 pounds. According to the physician's report, "she has always been a healthy girl, never seriously ill. Menstruation is regular of the 31-day type and not painful. Teeth in good condition, Chewing surface good and tongue clean. Hearing unimpaired hears whisper distinctly at 20-feet and a watch tick at 5-feet. Heart sounds clear. No vaginal examination made. Rectal examinations show no evidence of hemorrhoids. Knee jerks are lively."·
Janet Rachel Jones was administered the U.S. Military of Enlistment in Columbus, Ohio. From that point on things progressed quickly. Her orders were sent on February 26, that she was to report for training to Miss Whalen, Toll Chief Operator of the Bell Telephone Company in Trenton, New Jersey without delay for a seven-week course on the switchboard. The quartermaster corps was instructed to furnish her transportation stating that "the travel directed is necessary for the military service."
When she arrived in New Jersey she joined the elite group 223 women from around the country that made up the women of the Signal Corp. They were not only trained on the use of switchboards but also on military discipline and rules and regulations. Some of the women were named officers and were expected to have the woman ready for service. They were taught to march and salute and were subject to court martial just like their male counterparts. The one difference between the training was the women were not trained in the use of any weapons.
The training finished in April and they waited for orders to sail to France. Janet had her picture taken in uniform and placed on a postcard, a very common practice among the soldiers. She sent one to her Aunt and Uncle on April 23, 1918:
"I've tried so often to get a moment to write to you, but have thus far not succeeded. I do so hope you are quite all right again with that horrid leg in good working order. I think about you often. We are here in New York waiting the word to sail, it may come at any time, we came here a week ago last Saturday and spent a week shopping and doing other things necessary to getting underway. But since last Saturday we have been ready to go. Perhaps before you receive this I will be off at least I hope so. If either of you have time to write, I would certainly appreciate a letter for you. I shall be thinking of you and hoping you are well. With lots of love, Janet."
The "Hello Girls" would soon be sailing to France.
Janet Jones and the other woman of the Signal Corps were assigned to the R.M.S. Baltic for their trip across the Atlantic. The Baltic was an ocean liner owned by the White Star Line, the same company that had owned the Titanic. The Baltic was the ship that had carried the American General "Black" Jack Pershing and his staff to England in 1917.
The trip began on April 25, 1918, from Hoboken, New Jersey. The voyage was a dangerous one, German submarines were very active in the Atlantic looking for ships to sink, so the convoy, that included the Baltic, were escorted by Navy Destroyers.
Janet sent a letter to her sister Marguerite who was nicknamed Peg. The censored letter was published in the May 31, 1918 Advocate and read in part:
"Dear dear Peg, we have just slipped away from the wharf at 5:30 p.m. having been on the boat since 8:30 a.m. No one down at the pier this time, no shouting and no waving; and what surprised me most all passengers ordered inside as soon as we are away from the pier, not a single soul out on deck. 8:00 p.m. and not a light on deck, not even a cigar and every porthole and window tightly closed. How I do like the throb of a boat, but I wonder if I'll ever get there losing half my pleasure because you are not along to enjoy it with me.
"Boat drills commenced at once for the men but we thought we were to be abandoned to drown until Sunday and then we wished we had been! Sunday we were instructed to take our places with the men upon the sounding of the signal. No matter where you are when that fool signal sounds you must make a dash for your overcoat and life preserver and tear to your appointed position and there stand silently and stand and stand and stand. Civilians don't have to do it yet. Once the signal caught the Lieutenant in charge of our lifeboat in the bathtub, he was only two minutes late but his shoes were merely tied and I don't think he had on anything to speak of under his overcoat and was dampish around the edges, and it was cold too.
"Always about 10 minutes late, some fellow comes tearing in amid the audible smiles of everyone and gets blown up by the Lieutenant. Our Lieutenant looks to be about 16-years-old, though he says he is married and is much embarrassed by the presence of us females, he's a nice boy though."
While Janet was on her voyage the Jones family received a terrible blow. John Kenneth Jones the youngest brother that was born shortly before their mother's death had enlisted in the Army on April 10. Pvt. Jones contracted the flu almost immediately upon his entrance into the service and died of pneumonia at Fort Hayes in Columbus on April 27, two days into Janet's crossing of the Atlantic.
As Janet Jones continued her voyage across the Atlantic, she also continued her letter to her sister.
"Everything has gone placidly on its way since the last bit, which was a few days ago. We land tomorrow and will be at (censored) River. Today we have had quite the thrilling time. About 1:00 a.m. today we heard an explosion, or rather heard and felt it, nothing was evident when we went on the other side to look and we didn't think much of it. The Captain reported this afternoon that it was a submarine and that we, the convoy, got it.
"This afternoon about 1:30 there was a heavy explosion that shook our ship badly, everyone jumped up and rushed to the side from which the noise came. Several people said, 'they got us this time.' I didn't think they had for I didn't think it shook the boat enough, but never having been subbed before I, of course, wasn't sure. When we arrived on the port side of the ship everyone was looking at a thing that was sticking up from the water about 300 yards away. Just when I got there another shot was fired from one of the convoy and one of the destroyers picked up speed in the prettiest way I ever saw and went like a streak right at the thing, it did, however, pass a little to one side and dropped a bomb as it passed; it then shot ahead for about 500 yards and dropped another causing a good deal of kick-up in the water. Just at that moment, the whistles for the boat drill sounded. No one seemed much excited though I admit I was quivering some from excitement as were a number of other people, but no one looked wild and no one looked scared, I don't believe they were. Things soon calmed down and we were dismissed.
"Official word seems to have just come concerning the morning and afternoon affairs. This morning the submarine fired at the ship farthest off in our convoy, and we did get her. This afternoon there was a submarine as well as a decoy and we did get her as evidenced by the oil on the water and they say pieces of metal.
"We have not had our clothes off for two nights and this morning about 11:00 a.m. one of the girls proposed taking a bath, the steward nearly had a fit. He said, 'She doesn't realize what she is doing. She oughtn't do that etc. etc.' I did take off my skirt the first night and my shoes both nights for I couldn't stand them on. Well, goodnight my dear and goodbye for this time. Heaps of love to you and all, Janet"
The convoy reached England without further incident and spent a week at Southampton, before sailing for France to begin their duties with the American Expeditionary Force.
No other letters from Janet Jones exist about her service once she arrived in France. However, by looking at her service record and using information from author Elizabeth Cobbs' book "The Hello Girls, America's First Woman Soldiers" an accurate picture of what they did can be seen.
When Janet with the first 100 operators arrived in France, they were immediately put on a train for Paris which. They were told the city was under bombardment by the Germans. They arrived in Paris after dark. There was not a light to be seen so they could avoid giving the enemy any targets. The operators were taken to a YMCA Hostel. They had slept maybe an hour when they heard what they soon learned were air raid sirens and people running through the corridors yelling. A bomb hit next to the hostel that evening, which quickly made the war very real.
According to Cobbs' book, "Seven days later, the boom of heavy artillery shook windows and walls so badly that the phones were almost impossible to use at times," quoting the diary of operator Bertha Hunt. She also noted in her diary later when Paris was under attack, "Signal Corps women drilled with leaky gas masks."
The operators were split into smaller groups and stationed around France; Janet was sent to Chaumont. Their task included getting the phone network up and running as quickly as possible, what would have taken AT&T in the states months to do they did in weeks. By July local connections increased from 13,000 calls per day in January, to 35,000 calls. Telephone lines were everywhere, from the front trenches to every major city in France and even across the channel to England. The operators had to work with French operators to connect calls. This was often a strain since French were trained differently than Americans. When calls came from the trenches for artillery or reinforcements, the operators knew that their efficiency was crucial to saving American lives. They often worked 12-hour days and by the end of the war in November "would serve 8,152 different subscribers" according to Cobbs. "By November 11, the Signal Corps was averaging 4,000 toll calls and 150,000 local calls every day. By the end of the war, they had connected 26 million calls."
Paperwork from Janet's military file shows that in December 1919, she was transferred to Paris and was notified that she was given a raise in salary from $60.00 a month to $70.00 per month. With that raise, she was given the "Oath of Allegiance" again on December 27, 1918. In January she was given another $5.00 increase in salary and again signed another "Oath." The Army now had three signed oaths on file for Janet Jones on "Standard Form No. 6 of the War Department." However, they would soon have another surprise in store for the "Hello Girls."
With the ending of the war and the start of the new year, the number of calls that the "Hello Girls" answered dropped significantly. They were still looking forward to returning home.
In February of 1919, Janet Jones was admitted to the hospital in Nice, France for influenza. According to her records, she was released and recovered in her quarters until at least February 24.
From there she was sent to Tours, France then to Coblenz, Germany. In July she was ordered back to Brest, France, where in late August she learned she was going home. A letter from Colonel Roy Coles of the Signal Corps reads in part, "I desire to commend you on your excellent work here and to congratulate you upon having been a member of the service which has received such high commendation from our Commander-in-Chief as the Signal Corps, American Expeditionary Force. In your return home and to your pursuit in civil life, the Chief Signal Officer wishes that all good fortune may attend you, and assures you that you personally have been of material assistance in proving the success of the experiment of utilizing women with the Army at War."
1st Lieutenant Janet Jones left France and arrived in New York City September 3, she was discharged from the Army on September 11, 1919.
Very soon after her discharge, Janet discovered that even though she had sworn the oath of allegiance three times, had been made to adhere to military protocol, had held rank and worn the uniform of the Army Signal Corp, the Army now considered her a civilian employee. She received no victory medals as the men did that she served with nor was she allowed to claim veteran status. This was made very clear to all the operators when they heard that the family of one of the women, who had died of disease and had paid for military insurance for her family in case of her death, would not be allowed to collect the insurance. The Army stated she was a civilian working with the army and her family was not entitled to the money.
Janet returned to her teaching job at Newark High School and then in the 1920s took a position at Shaw High School in East Cleveland until her retirement in 1955. In 1965, she returned to Licking County and lived in Granville.
Her niece remembers watching Veterans Day parades with Janet and seeing all the veterans on floats or marching and telling her Aunt she should be in the parade too. Her Aunt would hush her and not talk about it.
Some of the "Hello Girls" were not as silent as Janet and had petitioned the government through the years for veteran status. According to the book "The Hello Girls" by Elizabeth Cobbs, in "November 1977, President Carter signed into law" the papers recognizing the woman of the Signal Corps as United States veterans. In 1979 thirty-one survivors applied and received official discharge statements for their service.
However, that was too late for Janet. First Lieutenant Janet R. Jones died September 14, 1970 and was buried without a military funeral at Cedar Hill Cemetery with a plain headstone that gives no indication to her military service. There is only a WWI Veteran flag holder that sits at her grave.
Let us never again as a community forget this woman who served so faithfully in WWI and gave us the honor of being home to one of the "Hello Girls."
Doug Stout is the Veterans Project Coordinator for the Licking County Library.