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When telephone companies began hiring operators, they chose teenage boys for the job. But the companies soon regretted their decision. Boys had done a great job working in telegraph offices. And they worked for low wages. But being a telephone operator was a tough job that required lots of patience -- something the boys didn't have. The boy operators quickly turned telephone offices upside down. They wrestled instead of worked. They pulled pranks on callers, and even cursed at them.
In 1878, the Boston Telephone Despatch company began hiring women operators instead. Women, the companies thought, would behave better than boys. Women had pleasant voices that customers -- most of whom were men -- would like. And because society did not treat women equally, they could be paid less and supervised more strictly than men.
The first woman telephone operator was Emma Nutt. In her day, women who wanted to work outside the family home or business had few choices. A young woman could get a job as a servant. Or she could work as a factory laborer, sales clerk, nurse, or teacher. Many women jumped at the chance to become telephone operators. By 1900, almost all operators were women. But not all women could be operators.

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Feature Technology in 1900