Number, please? 'Hello Girls' answered the call in World War I
By Richard Cowen
via the North Jersey Record (NJ) newspaper web site
Grace Banker served in some very high places during World War I. For 20 months, she lived like a soldier at a time when the Army didn't allow women in the ranks.
She wore a U.S. Army uniform with three stripes on her sleeve and carried a helmet and a gas mask to the front lines in France. And like any soldier, Banker had to keep her cool under fire, working the switchboard at Gen. John Pershing's headquarters amid the thunder of artillery shelling.
In France, she learned to fire a pistol — just in case. And when Pershing led the American Expeditionary Forces through a showdown with the Germans at the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne, Banker was with him, keeping the lines of communication open in the closing campaign of the war.
True to the cause, the Passaic resident didn't come home right away when the war ended in November of 1918. Banker went to Paris to operate the switchboard at President Woodrow Wilson's residence during negotiations for the Treaty of Versailles, which set down the terms of the new peace.
Banker was one of 223 women who volunteered for the U.S. Army Signal Corps as telephone switchboard operators. The newspapers dubbed them "The Hello Girls" — a moniker that many of them disliked, but one that stuck.
"She was an extraordinary daughter from Passaic who went on the world stage," said Mark Auerbach, the city historian. "The telephone was the cutting-edge technology of its time, and good communications saved many lives."
Five years after the war, on Memorial Day in 1924, Banker donned her Army uniform and stood with Pershing when he came to Passaic to dedicate the Cenotaph in honor of World War I soldiers that stands in Armory Park. Around the same time, Banker married and moved out of Passaic to Scarsdale, New York, packing her uniform, helmet and gas mask into a trunk and taking it with her.
Banker settled down and raised a family in Scarsdale, and her story seemed all but lost to history.
Recently, Banker's granddaughter, Carolyn Timbie, came to Passaic with her husband, Dustin, to see the house at 227 Van Houten Ave. where Banker grew up. Timbie never met her grandmother, but she has spent much of her time piecing together the story and came to Passaic wanting to know more.
"My grandmother was an amazing woman," said Timbie, who lives in New Hampshire. "She was intelligent, and independent-minded. I think she figured, 'I'm going to do my bit to help win the war.' "
Read the entire article on the North Jersey Record web site here:
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