|Painting of Oleda in Chaumont by her daughter, Michelle Christides|
A week from today I will once again present the story of Oleda Joure Christides, a World War I "Hello Girl." It will be at 11 a.m. at the Carnegie Branch of the Jackson District Library. The last time I was able to do this program was in November of 2019 before the pandemic. In preparing, I was feeling far removed from the story of this woman, a story developed from various sources including her two daughters. One of the daughters, Helen, has since died and I miss her so much. I had hoped to contact some of the family last November when Oleda was inducted into the Michigan Military and Veterans Hall of Honor. Unfortunately I was too sick that week to attend. Oleda's other daughter, Michelle, was also unable to attend, but sent a prerecorded video. Michelle has done much to share the story of her mother and these brave women who went "Over There" and then spent 60 years fighting for their promised veteran's status. The Doughboy Foundation long ago published her article, "The History of a Hello Girl."
That same Doughboy Foundation publishes a newsletter, which this month includes a Valentine's Day story about another aspect of the experience of these Signal Corps bilingual telephone operators. . . finding love. It's a reprint of the California American Legion's story, "A Love. A War. A Citizen" and that, too, was something Oleda observed among many of her fellow Hello Girls. I recommend "A Love. A War. A Citizen" highly and found it helpful in getting me back into the world of Oleda and her colleagues. There were 6 Hello Girls from Michigan, including Norma Finch Carman, who was from Hillsdale County, but worked in Detroit for the Michigan State Telephone Company. She returned to her job, but in less than a year married Ellis Joel Carman at the Episcopal rectory in Hillsdale. Joel had been a captain in the American Expeditionary Force in France. In my program I mention another, Melina Adam, who was repeatedly reassigned because she fell in love with Signal Corps soldier, Jack Converse. They didn't wait to come home and were married in Paris shortly after the Armistice. The California American Legion story does an excellent job of showing the world of the AEF and these brave women.
I don't portray famous people of the past, preferring to present "History as seen by the 'average' person." As the Michigan Military and Veterans Hall of Honor shows, that can include important history too easily overlooked. (The history of the Hello Girls was pushed aside for 60 years, but I'm pleased to play my part in keeping it alive.)