Congressman Cleaver Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Award Congressional Gold Medal to the ‘Hello Girls’ of WWI
(Washington, D.C.) – Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO) today introduced H.R. 1953, the “Hello Girls” Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2019, a bipartisan bill that would honor over 220 American women who served as phone operators with the U.S. Army Signal Corps in France during World War I. As phone operators, these women played a pivotal role in connecting American and French forces on the front lines of battle, helping to translate and efficiently communicate strategy. H.R. 1953 would award these women, the Hello Girls as they came to be known, with the Congressional Gold Medal—the highest civilian award bestowed by Congress—for their service and subsequent sixty-year fight for veteran status and the benefits that are earned with it.
“When I was first told the story of the Hello Girls, it really hit home,” said Congressman Cleaver. “As the nephew of a Tuskegee Airman who went to Europe in defense of freedom during WWII, only to return home with less benefits and recognition than his white counterparts, I can understand how these women must have felt after bravely serving their country only to be told they couldn’t qualify as veterans simply because of their gender.”
Formally known as the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators, the Hello Girls were recruited by General John J. Pershing in 1917 as the first group of women to hold non-medical positions in the U.S. Army. Considering telecommunication in battle was still relatively new at the time, General Pershing was looking for experienced individuals that could improve communication on the front lines. As the telephone operator field was dominated by women, General Pershing made the decision to form the specialized unit comprised solely of women. It was required that the women be bilingual in both French and English so that they could effectively communicate and coordinate with French and American forces. By the end of the war, the Hello Girls had connected over 26 million calls in support of the war effort, and even continued to serve in Europe to organize the return of American forces following the armistice.
“At a time when women couldn’t even vote, these are women who swore the oaths, wore the uniform, and abided by the same military laws as the men who served. Thankfully, they were rightfully given veteran status in 1979, but, as Women’s History Month comes to its conclusion, I think it’s time we honor them with the Congressional Gold Medal so that the generations to come can look back in the Congressional Record and remember the heroism and patriotism these women displayed,” Congressman Cleaver said.
Original cosponsors of the bill include Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Congresswoman Sharice Davids (D-KS), Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA), and Congressman James Comer (R-KY). The bill will fall under the jurisdiction of the National Security, International Development, and Monetary Policy Subcommittee, which Congressman Cleaver chairs. The text of the official bill can be read here.
Emanuel Cleaver, II is the U.S. Representative for Missouri’s Fifth Congressional District, which includes Kansas City, Independence, Lee’s Summit, Raytown, Grandview, Sugar Creek, Blue Springs, Grain Valley, Oak Grove, North Kansas City, Gladstone, Claycomo, and all of Ray, Lafayette, and Saline Counties. He is a member of the exclusive House Financial Services Committee, the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance, and also a Senior Whip of the Democratic Caucus. For more information, please contact Heather Frierson at 816-842-4545 or Heather.Frierson@mail.house.gov A high-resolution photo of Congressman Cleaver is available here.