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Saturday, July 11, 2015

The "Hello Girl" Who Died "Over There" (and Another Who Survived)

Back in April I began posting about the "Hello Girls", the bi-lingual phone operators who worked in France during World War I with the U.S.Army Signal Corps.  While they did get shelled and experience some of the other wartime experiences "Over There", only one died and she was from Hillsdale, Michigan.  Cora H. Bartlett wasn't killed by shells or gas, but the world-wide pandemic of the Spanish Influenza, which has been the deadliest in modern history.  The international death toll has been estimated at 20 to 50 million, with 675,000 American victims.  Like Bartlett, it killed mainly healthy young adults, with more U.S. service members killed during the war than from battle.  She died in the spring of 1919 after the Armistice was signed November 11, 1918.
Update: The Hillsdale Historical Society has confirmed the cause of death was Typhoid.  While Spanish Influenza killed many in the war, Typhoid continues to kill and is nowadays something travelers can vaccinate themselves to prevent.  By 1911 the U.S. Army vaccinated its soldiers.  This is yet another example of their not taking the women seriously as soldiers.  Typhoid is a bacterial infection controlled also by better sanitation such as clean drinking water and hand washing.  Those precautions weren't always possible in wartime.

UPDATE: In checking back here I see that the photos have been taken down.  I strongly recommend going to the Hillsdale Historical Society webpage about Cora Bartlett

cora's funeral cortage in france
Burial cortege in France for Cora Bartlett

She was buried in France with full honors.  A memorial tombstone to her was also added at the King Lake Cemetery in Hillsdale County.

Bartlett wasn't the only Hello Girl to suffer from the Spanish Influenza.  Mabel Lapp, of Evanston, Illinois, left the Chicago Telephone Company and became ill while on ship bound for France.  Lapp recovered and went on to serve as she initially planned. 
Norma Finch Carman
I shared my research about the Hello Girls with the Hillsdale Historical Society so they could add Ms. Bartlett  and fellow Hillsdale Hello Girl, Norma Finch Carman.  Miss Finch returned to Hillsdale after the war and married her wartime sweetheart, Captain Ellis Joel Carman.  She later moved to his home in Denellen, New Jersey for the remaining 42 years of her life.  By dying in 1962 she was with the majority missing Congress finally giving Veteran Status/Honorable Discharge in 1978 on the 60th anniversary of the war's end.

Update: Norma Finch Carman's information including photo is now at the Hillsdale Historical Society site.

Much of what I was able to learn about each of them came from old issues of Bell Telephone News, in volumes 7, 8, and 9.  It's somewhat amusing that an article on the need for new women employees follows the article on the Finch/Carman marriage, noting the large number of post-war weddings.

The Hillsdale Historical Society was gracious enough to add an article about the Hello Girls and post information about the two women on their People pages crediting me with passing the information along to them.  I also mentioned another Hillsdale County woman, Louise Gordon, who is usually listed as Detroit because she worked for Michigan State Telephone Company there, but her home was actually the Hillsdale town of Litchfield.

Research is continuing as I prepare to bring stories and songs of these brave women.  Along the way I found this wonderfully appropriate quote from Samuel Johnson in his Works, Lives of the Poets, talking about Joseph Addison, Johnson said "History may be formed from permanent monuments and records; but Lives can only be written from personal knowledge, which is growing every day less, and in a short time is lost for ever. What is known can seldom be immediately told; and when it might be told, it is no longer known."

There's so much more to be found and told!

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