People and Places gallery heading 1901: Living at the Time of the Census People and Places

The Telephone Operator

The Telephone Operator
National Telephone Company switchroom  -  link to an enlarged version
Communications were a significant growth industry: the 1901 Census found that the telegraph and telephone services were employing 22,819 people, an increase of 52.6% since 1891. Many of these employees were women.
Telephone operators were not well paid, with starting salaries as low as 8s per week for a 17 year old. In 1900, the Treasury agreed to a starting rate of 11s per week in London and 10s outside, rising to a maximum of 20s and 18s respectively. It was argued that 'telephony' work was more arduous than telegraphy, as the effort of working five wires simultaneously 'keeps the operator in a state of worry and nervous tension'.

At the turn of the century, the state-owned General Post Office (GPO) provided telephone services across the country - in competition with a number of private local and national companies - and was expanding. In 1901, the GPO and the private National Telephone Company agreed not to undercut each other's charges in the London area. However, as with the nationalisation of the telegraph in 1869, it was argued that private operators failed to provide adequate services across the board, concentrating instead on those areas where most profit was to be made. In 1905, the GPO agreed to buy out the National Telephone Company on the expiry of its licence in 1911.

Follow this link for more on women's work.

Wage increases for telephone operators employed by the GPO -  link to an enlarged version
The Dockyard Worker The Composer The Metropolitan Policeman The Refugee The Army Officer The Actress The War Widow The Soldier The Railwayman The Naval Officer The Telephone Operator The Typist
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