I’m angry. There, I’ve said it. I’m angry. Most young girls aren’t raised to be angry. Many other things, yes, but angry, no. So to enter the world, and begin to get the feeling that gender equality is still a struggle, playing fields aren’t always equal, and women are mistreated on a shocking, global scale, is jarring. There is so much work to be done. But we can still take a moment to appreciate how far women have come. In fact, this can be done through the eyes of story-teller Ellouise Schoettler in The Hello Girls.
The Hello Girls, an intimate, one woman story-telling experience, recalls the journey of a number of women who answered an ad in the newspaper for bi-lingual (seeking French and English) women to work in France during World War I. The women were trained, given uniforms, – and reminded they are considered combatants – before being shipped to France with their fellow Army men to be telephone operators, and thus deemed the Hello Girls.
When they arrive, they’re thrown into the chaos of war. They’re desperately needed by the Army which needs a means for telephone communication with the French. They are frequently endangered, wildly appreciated, and when they return home, denied their victory medals and discharge papers. Why? Because they were only “civilians,” of course. And to this, the women say “bull.”
Ms. Schoettler tells the story from a stool, inhabiting different Hello Girls looking back on their journeys, with different pairs of glasses indicating the varying characters’ presence. No set, no music, just a story of a wrong that needed to be righted. Her performance makes it clear that she revels in giving these women a voice, and is not only still in awe of the story, but of the women themselves. Accomplished Hello Girls manager Grace Banker, who chose to remain in France after for armistice, or Merle Egan Anderson, who fought for decades to give her and her fellow veterans the recognition they all deserve, do nothing if not inspire everyone in the audience.
The Hello Girls: Unknown Heroines of WWI
Conceived by Ellouise Shoettler
at Caos on F
923 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
Details and tickets
Some details (a recollection of blue lights radiating a Paris night) add to the sights and sounds of war. Others do not, and slow the piece down. Overall, it’s a cozy slice of historical story-telling that will not only evoke a sense of nostalgia, but indignation as well.
The Hello Girls is a story of women called to war, trained for war, and then lead to the front lines. For all of their work, risk, and dedication, they were denied what they had earned because they were women, and therefore could be denied. A hundred years later, women are still fighting their own battles; a hundred years from now, hopefully, there will be less to overcome. Much thanks to Ms. Schoettler for bringing history like the Hello Girls to light.