One Ringy-Dingy: Celebrating Emma Nutt Day

By Joy Neighbors
Emma Nutt
Today is Emma Nutt Day, named after the world’s first female telephone operator.
Originally telephone switchboard operators were comprised of young boys who could reach the top panels, but they persisted in being rude to callers. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, quickly decided that women were more likely to have the polite temperament he wanted telephone operators to project. 

Emma and Stella Nutt
Bell hired Emma Nutt and she began working as the first phone operator for the Edwin Holmes Telephone Dispatch Company in Boston, Massachusetts on September 1, 1878. Her sister Stella was the second operator to be hired by Bell a few hours later, working for the same company. (They were also the first pair of sisters to work as telephone operators.)
While you might think the job required no skills, it was actually a difficult position to get. Applicants had to be unmarried white females between the ages of seventeen and 26 with perfect posture, of a certain height and weight, patient, efficient and have arms long enough to reach the top of the telephone switchboard. Plus, Bell now considered a polite, cultured voice to be a great asset.

Telephone Operators at the Turn of the Century
By 1879, four more female telephone operators, Bessie Snow Balance, Carrie Boldt, Emma Landon and Minnie Schumann, were hired for a phone company in Michigan.
Emma Nutt loved her job and continued as a telephone operator for more than 33 years. She worked 54 hours a week, saying “Number please” and "Let me connect you" an estimated 120 times per hour. For this, she made about $10 a month.

Telephone operators were also used at French Lick Springs and West Baden Springs Hotels during the 20th century. Although their names have been lost to the past, personal operator assistance was always offered with a polite tone and a smile in the voice. 

In the 1970s, national companies began to promote direct dialing but most customers still preferred to have an operator connect them on a long-distance call. With the introduction of computers and fiber optic telephone links, phone operators were gradually phased out. But today you can still reach a live person when you call the resort.

Customer Service Center Manager Meagan Nolley
Our Call Center is staffed by 36 people who assist external and internal callers. The agents work in one of six groups: PBX Operators, Reservations, Group Rooms, Guest Billing, Data Switching and the supervisors.
Between 4,000 and 5,000 calls come into the hotel each week for the Reservations Department alone. This is a tremendous up-tick in the usual calls. According to Meagan Nolley, Customer Service Center Manager, “We are breaking call records every week and have since mid-June.”

PBX (Private Branch Exchange) operators are the closest in job skills to the original telephone operators. These are the folks who answer calls as they comes into the resort and answer questions or direct the call to the correct person or department. PBX operators receive computer training plus another three weeks of specialized training where they learn about the resort, visit the venues and discover where to access information.
When considering a new PBX operator, Nolley said she looks for “someone with a good presentation, a pleasing voice and is sincere in the desire to assist our callers and guests. The PBX operator needs to be able to interact with the caller professionally and courteously.”
PBX Operator Deborah Wathen
PBX operator Deb Wathen described what she loves about her job. “It’s all about assisting people; helping them find answers.  I operate under our departmental slogan that ‘it’s my pleasure to connect you with a memory-making experience,’ and it is, every day.”
For Meagan Nolley, the reward at the end of the day is in “making sure the guests are taken care of. It’s always different but that’s what makes it fun. Every day in the Call Center is an adventure.” Just as it was 138 years ago when Emma Nutt first asked, "Number, please?"