Watching storyteller Ellouise Schoettler’s Hello Girls: Unknown Heroines of WWI is an edifying experience. In her one-woman show, Schoettler sheds light on the little-known history of the “Hello Girls”, American women sent to France during World War I to operate telephone switchboards as part of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. If this sounds like a high school history lesson, think again. First, you almost definitely didn’t learn about these women in your history classes (I know I never did). Second, Schoettler manages to make this history not just edifying, but entertaining.
Schoettler is a Fringe veteran, and it shows in her polished story telling. With subtle changes in accessories, posture, and vocal inflection, she embodies three different women. First there’s Olive, who tells the audience about finally receiving her long-denied but much-deserved recognition as a US Army veteran when she was 89 years old. Then there’s Grace, who recounts her service as the chief operating officer of a group of switchboard operators sent to the front line in France in 1918. Her story is the most extensive, and also the most harrowing, as Schoettler details the fear of air raids and the pressure of knowing that one mistake on the switchboard could cost men their lives. Finally, Schoettler speaks as Merle, who spent 60 years fighting to earn the “Switchboard Soldiers” their official recognition as Army veterans.
Hello Girls: Unknown Heroines of WWI
Written, directed and performed by Ellouise Schoettler
Details and tickets
I found it impossible to listen to this story and not feel frustrated by the plight of these women who were often belittled by the men they served beside and then denied the awards and benefits they rightfully deserved as World War I vets. Heartbreakingly, by the time they were finally formally recognized for their service, the vast majority of the Hello Girls were dead. However, I took some solace in the fact that Schoettler has taken the time to carefully research their history and tell it through monologues created from their own words.
Schoettler is passionate about her story. She loves her subjects, and it shows. She honors the women she speaks of by weaving a narrative that is at times charming, at other times powerful, and never bitter even when it rightfully could be. People need to know about these women, Schoettler tells us. “Share this story with your children, and with your grandchildren,” she says in her epilogue. I know I will share my newfound knowledge with my own young daughter when she is old enough to understand.
“Thank God for plucky women,” Schoettler says. We should also be thankful for this storyteller who won’t let their role in history be forgotten.