Enid Mack Pooley
Signal Corps Telephone Operators Unit
May 21, 1899 – August 24, 1979
Enid Mack Pooley served in the Signal Corps Telephone Operators Unit, known as the “Hello Girls,” during World War I. Serving with distinction, they operated telephone lines and switchboards at the Western Front, translating messages and coordinating the Allied war effort. The youngest “Hello Girl” to serve, Pooley and her fellow operators were the first women accepted for service in the Army other than as a nurse. Their service paved the way for women’s opportunities in the American military.
Born Enid Adolph Mack to Charles and Isabella Henriette Victoria Mack on May 21, 1899, Pooley started her life as British citizen. Growing up in Washington state, she was fluent in French as her mother was a French citizen. In 1915, she attended the University of Washington as an incoming freshman. While in school, Pooley worked part-time as a relief telephone operator for Puget Sound Power and Light (now Puget Sound Energy).
On April 11, 1918, Pooley joined the Signal Corps with the designation “Operator, Telephone Unit.” Though the age requirement was 23, the Army granted her an exception as she spoke fluent French and German. The Army paid her a wage of $60 per month with allowances for food, clothing, and housing (about $1,075 in 2021). Pooley traveled to San Francisco for training along with other members of her unit. After completing two months of training, the 7th Unit, to which Pooley was assigned, went to New York City for further training. There, the 7th Unit trained at the offices of the American Telephone and Telegraph. While in New York, Pooley purchased her uniform which included a long navy blue dress, a broad brimmed navy blue hat, and Signal Corps lapel insignia.
While Pooley trained in New York, over 200 “Hello Girls” were already in France. After the deployment of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in 1917, Allied leaders grappled with communication problems between Army units and their foreign allies. The language barrier between the Allies created an urgent need for experienced phone operators. General John J. Pershing, commander of the AEF, ordered the recruitment of women telephone operators fluent in English and French. Nicknamed “Hello Girls,” the first telephone operators arrived in Paris in March 1918.
Serving in the First, Second, and Third Army Headquarters in France, the telephone operator units worked long hours and were, at times, close to the front lines. The “Hello Girls” quickly developed a reputation as superior and efficient telephone operators. In one instance, the First Army Headquarters caught fire and the telephone operators refused to abandon their post. After a forceful evacuation, they were back to work within an hour after arriving back at headquarters.
As Pooley and the 7th Unit prepared to deploy to France, World War I ended when the Allied and Central Powers signed an armistice on November 11, 1918. The Army discharged Pooley on December 26, 1918 and she returned to Washington a year later. A British citizen, she applied for naturalization as an American citizen, believing that her Army service granted citizenship. Pooley was surprised to learn that, according to the Army, that she and the other “Hello Girls” were considered civilian employees of the Army. Despite their excellent record of service and their treatment as Soldiers, the Army denied the “Hello Girls” veteran status.
Pooley graduated from Barnard College in 1921 and married Neville Pooley in 1923. She finally became an American citizen in 1925. She settled in Washington and raised three daughters with her husband. Pooley never forgot the Army’s refusal to recognize her as a veteran, believing it a gross injustice. She hired attorneys, wrote Congress, and never gave up hope that she would one day gain veteran status.
In 1977, 59 years after the end of World War I, Congress passed the GI Improvement Bill which granted 233 “Hello Girls” veteran benefits. The Army issued them honorable discharges and granted them veteran status. For many, including Pooley, it was too late. She died of a stroke on August 24, 1977 at the age of 80, four days before the passing of the bill. Pooley’s service, along with that of the other “Hello Girls,” is credited as helping lead to the service of women in the Army in future conflicts.
A. J. Orlikoff
Lead Education Specialist
Associated Press. “80-year-old dies before discharge fight won.” Longview Daily News, August 27, 1979: 11.
Columbia University. Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Columbia College for the Year 1920-1921. New York City: Columbia University, 1921.
Gavin, Lettle. “WW1 Veteran Honor Comes, but Too Late.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 25, 1979: A3.
“They Served: The ‘Hello Girls’ of WWI and their sixty-year battle for recognition.” VAntage Point (blog). March 30, 2020. https://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/72875/they-served-the-hello-girls-of-wwi-and-their-sixty-year-battle-for-recognition/.
Thompson, Susan. “Hello Girls of World War I.” U.S. Army. March 27, 2020. https://www.army.mil/article/234046/hello_girls_of_world_war_i.
United States Congress Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “Affidavit of Enid M. Pooley.” Recognition for Purposes of VA Benefits: Hearing Before the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, United States Senate, Ninety-fifth Congress, First Session, on S. 247, S. 1414, S. 129, and Related Bills, May 25, 1977. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1977. 358-359.
Zeiger, Susan. In Uncle Sam’s Service: Women Workers with the American Expeditionary Force, 1917-1919. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.
Classroom and Research Materials:
“The U.S. Army Campaigns of World War I Commemorative Brochures.” Center of Military History. Accessed August 4, 2021. https://history.army.mil/html/bookshelves/collect/wwi-cb.html.
“World War I Centennial Commemoration Curriculum.” Center of Military History. Accessed August 4, 2021. https://history.army.mil/curriculum/wwi/index.html.
“Women in Army History.” Center of Military History. Accessed August 4, 2021. https://history.army.mil/html/topics/women/index.html.
“Hello Girls: Topics in Chronicling America.” Library of Congress. Accessed August 4, 2021. https://guides.loc.gov/chronicling-america-hello-girls.
Hendrix, Melanie. “The Hello Girls in World War I.” The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library. Accessed August 4, 2021. https://www.trumanlibrary.gov/education/lesson-plans/hello-girls-world-war-i.
Articles and Publications:
Myre, Greg. “100 Years On, The ‘Hello Girls’ Are Recognized For World War I Heroics.” NPR, November 9, 2018. https://www.npr.org/2018/11/09/659349910/100-years-on-the-hello-girls-are-recognized-for-world-war-i-heroics.
Cobbs, Elizabeth. “Women at War: The Hello Girls – Elizabeth Cobbs.” National WWI Museum and Memorial. March 22, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbQWCU9OU20.
“’Hello Girls’ in the 1918 Meuse-Argonne Offensive.” C-SPAN. November 9, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfYAo-nHVjs.