Telephone Operators Sweating at the Switchboard — 1951

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by Paula Bosse

The summer of 1951 in Texas was brutally hot. One heat-related incident that August made national headlines: more than 1,500 Southwestern Bell telephone operators (and supportive coworkers) who were working in unairconditioned conditions (!!) at the Haskell Exchange on Bryan and at the Akard Street headquarters downtown staged what news reports called a “wildcat walkout” and refused to continue working in the sweltering buildings. Management’s attempt to cool things down with electric fans blowing over buckets of ice had not worked. Operators returned the next day, having made their point, hopefully to the imminent installation of air-conditioned switchboard rooms.

The caption for the photo above:

Dallas, Tex. Aug. 10 [1951] — BEATING THE HEAT — Both ice and fans are brought into play by telephone operators at an exchange here today as the city continued to swelter under 100-degree or over temperatures. The thermometer reached a high of 102-degrees to run the consecutive days of 100-degree readings to ten. It is the longest period of such reading since 1925 when a record 11 straight days was set. High mark for the present heat wave was 107 on August 6.

Three days later, the sweat hit the fan, and the women walked out.

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St. Joseph [MO] News Press, Aug. 14, 1951 (click to read)

Let’s hope your work conditions are a bit better this summer!

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Sources & Notes

Wire service photograph from the Southern Labor Archives of the Georgia State University Library Special Collections.

See ads from 1911 and 1925 encouraging women to become telephone operators in the Flashback Dallas post “Work and Play in Telephone Land,” here.

Click photo for larger image.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.