Jessie Mix is not a well-known person, nor is hers a name that will ever wind up in a textbook—most of Mix’s life was spent in relative anonymity. What makes Jessie Mix important, however, is the work that she, and women like her, performed in the early telephone industry as switchboard operators.
Back in the early 20th century (when Mix worked as an operator) cords and plugs were used to make telephone connections manually. The need for telephone operators opened up new job opportunities for women. As a representative of telephone operators from this era, excerpts from Mix’s interview with an historian provide insights into what working with this new technology was like.
“In those days the board had drops that fell down when people called [These were “annunciators,” little flaps that opened on an overhead panel visually indicating which lines needed attention]. You put the plug in, and said hello, and asked who they wanted. The subscribers usually gave the name of the person they wanted, instead of the number, so we had to remember every name and number in the whole exchange and had to shout the number to a girl at the other board if the connection were not on our own. . . Since there were sometimes ten girls shouting numbers back and forth, you can imagine what a confusion it made. It was a lot of fun, however, we weren't busy all the time, and there were yards of crocheting and knitting done in that office between calls. We were a regular family, the girls in the office and even the subscribers. They used to send us boxes of candy and flowers and drop in to see us from time to time, and on occasion some of the livery stables. . . would put a horse and carriage or sleigh at our disposal, and take the girls on a picnic. We also used to play a few harmless pranks. I remember Louise Spang particularly. On rainy days when the girls' shoes were wet, and they were sitting on the high chairs with their feet on the brass rail, Louise used to connect one of the plugs to the rail and put the buzzer on it and give the girls a shock!"