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[Attachment 1] 1918 Operator Still Seeks Justice After 50 Years - 1975

By Sally Gene Mahoney

Fifty years is a long time.

It is even longer when you are seeking what Merle Anderson calls "a matter of justice."

For all of these years, Mrs. Anderson has been asking for official recognition for a group of 223 women (only about 75 now survive) who served in "Telephone Operating Units" of the Army Signal Corps in France during and after World War I.

She was one of them—a little older then than most, with 11 years' experience when she signed up in Helena, Mont., in answer to the urgent plea of Gen. John J. Pershing.

None of those still left are younger than 75 now. Mrs. Anderson is nearly 87.

"It is now or never," she said. "If recognition doesn't come this time, I'm through.

"It is late, but it is never too late to make amends."

It was November 1917 when the call came for 100 women to be recruited as telephone operators to serve with the Signal Corps in France. These first 100 had to speak fluent French. The Signal Corps enlisted most of them from colleges— including 18 from the University of Washington.

Mrs. Anderson enlisted later, in the summer of 1918, when [the Signal Corps] found that knowledge of telephone operations was even more necessary than fluency in French. At that time, she was a telephone traffic supervisor in Helena.

Unlike the women employed in the Quartermaster and Ordnance Corps, who all signed employment contracts, the women in the Signal Corps telephone units never did. They were sworn in like soldiers, Mrs. Anderson maintains and served as military personnel.

That is the problem: Were the women in the Army or weren't they?

Mrs. Anderson vigorously says that they were, indeed, the first women sworn into the Army. The Army and other federal officialdom have never acknowledged that accepted women in a similar situation in the Navy (the Yeomanettes) as members of the Armed Forces.

Mrs. Anderson backs up her contention with this:

The Signal Corps women were sworn in with the same oath given to male enlistees. Hers was administered by the then adjutant general of Montana.

They enlisted "for the duration" and couldn't have resigned even if they wanted to.

They reported to Army officers and, she says, were told: "every day of our lives that we were in the Army."

They were under the Code of Military Justice and the Article of War. Also, They had to adhere to 13 additional rules of conduct just for them.

The women were subject to military Court-martial—and one woman was court-martialed and sent home for discharge.

The women wore navy-blue Signal Corps uniforms, long-skirted and complete not only with appropriate military insignia but a military-style overseas cap. They wore their uniforms at all times, except in the privacy of their rooms, whether on or off duty.

Mrs. Anderson's fight for recognition of their service began in 1926—40 years ago. She hadn't thought much about it before then. When she started doing veterans' hospital volunteer work with the Women's Overseas Service League and found the Yeomanettes receiving full benefits, she began to ask questions.

Since then, it has been a continuing effort. Some 20 bills have been introduced in Congress asking that the "wrong" be righted in the intervening years.

NOT ONE OF those bills, including the present one (HR 4068) introduced by Representative Brock Adams, has ever come out of committee.

Veterans groups have from time to time indicated support for the "cause." Still, except for Mrs. Anderson's persistence, no one has given it a concerted effort.

That may be changing a little, she said, because the National Organizations for Women has taken an interest. Currently, Patricia McGivern Leeper, coordinator of the NOW Committee for Women in the Military, plans a significant effort by that group.

Mrs. Anderson's service turned out to be primarily a training mission. She trained men to operate the old magneto switchboards, which then carried the most significant load of military battlefield communication.

When the armistice came, the Signal Corps women continued their work, with Mrs. Anderson serving as chief operator with American Peace Commission in the Crillon Hotel in Paris until June 1919.

Returning home, Merle Egan was married (her husband, H. S. Anderson, died in 1959), and they moved to Seattle, her home since. Her son. Bob Anderson, a career Marine Corps officer, died last year. She has three grandchildren.

Achieving recognition for her service and that of the other Signal Corps telephone unit women won't mean a great deal in benefits—most probably wouldn't be eligible for much, if anything, in the way of a pension, and a few might seek care in a veterans hospital. That's about all, except for the recognition she feels is due.

There are three other women in this area still living that Mrs. Anderson knows served—Mrs. Gilbert Beiland and Marjorie McKillop, both of Seattle, and Alma Hawkins, a former Roosevelt High School teacher here who now lives in Bellingham.

Mrs. Anderson chuckles as she tells you that "I spend more money for stamps (in her campaign for recognition) than the Government does, but she is never more serious when she repeats :

"It is late, but it is never too late to make amends."

"[Attachment 1]: 1918 Operator Still Seeks Justice After 50 Years by Sally Gene Mahoney From the Seattle Times, Sunday, 20 July 1975" Hearing before the Committee on Venteran's Affairs, United States Senate, Ninety-Fifth Congress, First Session on S. 247, S. 1414, S. 129, and Related Bills, Washington DC: US Government Print Office, 25 May 1977, pp. 309-311.

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