Fringeworthy

Hip Shot: The Hello Girls: Unknown Heroines of WWI

Hello-GirlsCaos on F

Remaining Performances:
Saturday, July 12 at noon
Tuesday, July 15 at 8:15 p.m.
Wednesday, July 16 at 7:45 p.m.
Sunday, July 20 at 5:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 26 at 8:15 p.m.

They say: Do you know that Army Signal Corps women played a key role in winning the Allied victory in WWI France? Working near the battle lines The Hello Girls and their portable switchboards were our secret weapon. This is their story.

Cara's Take: Ellouise Schoettler tells a good story. In The Hello Girls: Unknown Heroines of WWI, she tells three of them. When the U.S. first got involved in World War I, Pershing requested 100 telephone operators who spoke fluent French. Eventually, 233 women, all officers, would go to France, some of them serving very close to the front lines, to facilitate the war effort. When they returned, they were denied the medals and the discharge papers, even the status as veterans, that the men who fought received.

The first and last stories (Olive M. Shaw and Merle Anderson) are framing devices. Both of them mention Grace Banker and her role as the first chief operating officer for the women in the Signal Corps. They both have moments of humor in telling their own stories—Shaw was shocked to find out she had to pay for her own uniform and Anderson really enjoyed her time in Paris—but these stories focus on the quest for recognition after the war.

The main emphasis is on the central story of Grace Banker, told in her own voice circa 1939. A graduate of Barnard College and a trainer for AT&T when the call went out, she was a leader among the women. This story focuses on the realities of deployment from a crowded troopship navigating U-Boat infested waters to working with a small group of other women to connect 40,000 calls a day during a battle.

Schoettler is not an actress; she's a storyteller. As such, the women are differentiated mostly by their glasses frames and a bit by their vocabulary. I wish her French pronunciation was better, so that I could spell the name of the battle Banker contributed to, but Ms. Schoettler's achievement is in shaping and telling this forgotten story of mostly forgotten combatants.

See it if: You're interested in a forgotten story of forgotten female soldiers.

Skip it if: If you prefer strong characterization over simple storytelling.

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