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«PHONE LADIES»

The first telephone ladies were educated, patient and polite. They were young, between 18 and 25 years and not married, so that the extra thought and care did not lead to errors on the job. Even the physical characteristics of telephone operators had to be strictly regulated: they were required to be 165 cm tall and the length of the body in a sitting position (with her ​​hands outstretched) should be at least 128 cm. An enviable salary was paid (30 rubles per month) while other skilled workers at that time received only 12 rubles per month. In the measured and quiet way of life of the 19th Century, however, such work did not fit comfortably. In 1891, a correspondent of the Electricity magazine sympathetically lists the professional hardships the telephone ladies had to endure: nervous seizures often forced women to abandon their work despite all the initial efforts to secure her job. In 'Notes of the old St. Petersburg man' Lev Uspensky writes of the telephone ladies plight.

Some ladies were asked to connect calls quicker. In the late hours when few connections took place, it was possible to befriend a telephone lady, to speak heart-to-heart, even flirt. He told one of them that her voice was so sweet that a millionaire or Grand Duke would be captivated, setting her up for life. An interesting fact is that a telephone call was carried out using the telephone, which had no disc or buttons. Technologically, it looks like this: the subscriber turned a rotary knob inductor which powered a small generator and gave voltage 60 volts; it went through the telephone line and on to the switch. At the same time, on the switch, a ringer (valve) opened automatically. The caller would have said something like: "Young lady, Salsola, two to seventeen." This meant that the girl had to stick a plug on the other end of the cord into the seventeenth slot on the second row of panels, which were connected to devices of the Soljanki district. The girl then connected the 'subscribers' or addressed directly the 'called' switch, who was serving the area of the desired number. The telephonist would already know by all the phone numbers by heart. The lady then plugged into the local polling plug and called out his personal number (as calling out a name might be a mouthful). He specified the destination of the 'subscriber'. Now the second plug was inserted into the slot of the 'called' number. So the connection was established. The 'called' destination began to be heard in the telephone call. Then the telephone lady, making sure that the connection was 'live' and people were talking, put the key in the neutral position and was ready to accept the next caller. Talking on the phone, the caller had to again rotate the inductor, whereupon the switch tripped a pneumatic valve. It opened and it served as a signal for the telephone: you simply disconnect and the conversation ended.

The profession in those days was considered to be quite responsible. The girls had to go through special selection and sign non-breach of secrecy contracts. In addition, a woman could only become a telephone operator under the condition she was not married. It was feared that, when married, information leaks would take place. The duty signaller of that era had to be dressed in dark colors with closed dress. Work at the manual telephone exchange demanded concentration and good diction. At the same time, this kind of professional activity was considered quite harmful.

To call outside the city network, the subscriber was required to call the telephone operator and the city room. Such switches were called local middle battery or MB types. Girls were constantly in a state of extreme concentration. Such stress and attention, unlike reading poetry or music-making, was abnormal. The telephonist quickly became weary. This led to errors in connecting callers. Important subscribers who were paying serious money became indignant and often complained. The number of phone owners had already grown exponentially: 246 by the end of 1882, then up to 1250 in 1892 and 2918 in the year 1900. Each of them had reason to demand the highest level of service. Bell Telephone Company wanted the highest possible level of service. The work of the telephone ladies was complicated though. For 200 hours per month they had to sit on a hard chair with a fixed iron-cased headset microphone, headphones. They were expected to quickly switch plugs into required cells, while their superior stood in front of them. An a busy hour, it was possible to carry up to 170 calls (not including calls to engaged lines). This work was wearing.