Welcome Remarks for “The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers”
McGowan Theater, National Archives Building
April 25, 2017
Good afternoon. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m delighted to welcome you to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives for our program on Elizabeth Cobb’s book, The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers.
Whether you are here in the McGowan Theater or watching on YouTube, thank you for joining us.
Before we get started, I’d like to let you know about two programs coming up next week in this theater.
On Tuesday, May 2, at noon, author Adrian Miller will be here to tell us about his new book, The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families. He chronicles the stories of the African Americans who worked in the Presidential food service as chefs, personal cooks, butlers, stewards, and servers for every First Family since George and Martha Washington.
The next day, Wednesday, May 3, at noon, is the national book launch for JFK: A Vision for America. JFK’s nephew Stephen Kennedy Smith and historian Douglas Brinkley bring together Kennedy’s greatest speeches along with essays by America’s leading historians, political thinkers, writers, and artists.
To learn more about these and all of our public programs and exhibits, consult our monthly Calendar of Events in print or online at Archives.gov. There are copies in the lobby—along with a sign-up sheet so you can receive it by regular mail or email. You’ll also find brochures about other National Archives programs and activities.
Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Pick up your application for membership in the lobby or become a member online at archivesfoundation.org.
After the United States entered World War I, women as well as men eagerly volunteered to serve their country. Although women were prohibited from joining the regular Army or Navy, they found ways to contribute, often by taking up jobs once performed by men now going overseas.
One group of women, however, possessed a skill much needed by the Army. Fighting a war required a reliable communications network, but more than two and a half years of war had devastated the French telephone system. General John J. Pershing, Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces, called upon the expertise of women telephone operators.
More than seventeen hundred women applied, and just over 200 served in Europe with the Army. Their service is documented in their official personnel files, now in the National Archives at St. Louis collection of archival civilian personnel records.
Yes —that’s “civilian” personnel records. After the war, these women—because they were women—were not deemed eligible for military benefits, despite their Army service. It took until the 1970s for the “Hello Girls” to finally receive the benefits due them as the first female Army veterans.
In both our military and civilian personnel records centers, we preserve the records of the millions of men and women who have served our country.
Throughout this centennial observance, the National Archives is showcasing its unparalleled World War I holdings and the stories contained in them—including those of Pershing’s “Hello Girls.”
To tell find out more about the Hello Girls and their place in World War I history, we turn to Elizabeth Cobbs. Dr. Cobbs is a historian, novelist, and documentary filmmaker. She holds the Melbern Glasscock Chair in American History at Texas A&M University and is a Research Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. In addition to The Hello Girls, she is the author of The Hamilton Affair: A Novel, and American Umpire, which became the basis for her first film and debuted last year on American public television.
Her works have won the Allan Nevins Prize, the Bernath Book Prize, and the San Diego Book Award. She has written for the New York Times, Jerusalem Post, Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, and Reuters. She has also served on the Historical Advisory Committee of the U.S. State Department and the jury for the Pulitzer Prize in History.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Elizabeth Cobb.