Joplin Live Wire: A.F. Adams

In 1910, the Joplin Daily Globe began a series of short features on the “live wires” of Southwest Missouri, men whom the paper decided were the up and coming members of the community.  The short articles featured a caricature of the individual (usually in a work related setting), plus some biographical information.  Below, we offer A.F. Adams, the first of a number of these “live wires” we’ll be sharing to offer a glimpse of what Joplin once considered her leading members of community.

Note the "Hello Girls" in the background.

A.F. Adams began his career in the telephone business in Wisconsin as a constructing engineer with a telephone company.  From there he successfully managed independent telephone properties in both Wisconsin and Illinois.  Adams arrived in Joplin in August, 1905, presumably to work with the Home Telephone Company.  The Globe noted that since his connection with the company, subscribers had jumped from 2,500 to nearly 7,000. In addition to being a successful member of Joplin’s business community, Adams also had time to join the International Order of Odd Fellows and the Elks.  The paper also offered Adams home address at the time, a common element to articles in the time period, as being 1615 Pearl Street.

The Home Telephone Company was incorporated in 1902, and Adams was at least still an officer of the company five years later in 1915.  Adam’s success, however, led to his move to Kansas City to oversee a larger telephone conglomeration in 1912.  Further success led to Adams sharing his time between Kansas City and New York City.

Toilers of Darkness

In the following story that we have presented in its entirety below, an anonymous Globe reporter writes in a florid style that one no longer finds in the pages of today’s newspapers. The article demonstrates a style of journalism that no longer exists as editors now demand clarity and conciseness, not flowery run-on sentences. One rarely thinks of the people who work the night shift, but as this article shows, little has changed since the turn of the century. We still rely upon the police, the fire department, security guards, janitors, and twenty-four hour fast food restaurants to look after us in the wee hours of the morning. And, as the reporter neglected to mention, far more women may have worked the night shift than he realized, only as soiled doves in Joplin’s red light district.

“In the hours of darkness, while thousands of Joplin people are wrapped tightly in the arms of Morpheus, hundreds of others are toiling for those who are unconscious of what is going on around them at that hour, keeping the big mill of life in one continuous grind.

It is not often that the average person gives a thought to those who are laboring during the hours of the night, after their daily toil is completed.  Some hurry home to a hearty supper and a pleasant evening with the family, while others remain to enjoy a good production at the local theater or visit with a friend, but few of those think of others, who are at that very hour preparing to take their places and keep the great machinery of life well lubricated, so that it will run again the next day without a hitch.

It will be of extreme interest and will, no doubt, cause great surprise to thousands of Joplin people to know that more than 1,000 inhabitants of this city work throughout the entire night, besides there are hundreds of others who devote half the night to labor.

In its slumber the city must still be supplied with heat, light and water, its homes must be protected from fire, its streets and stores must be guarded and food for thirty-five thousand mouths must be prepared before the dawn.  And all of this work and much more must fall to the lot of the toilers of darkness.  Year in and year out, the city as a great workshop never rests period.  While the day working people of Joplin are seeking relaxation, and while later hundreds of homes are quiet in slumber, a small army of tireless men and boys, and some cases women, is swaying back and forth in the nightly routine of their work, keeping up the great gind.

While thousands of Joplin people are sleeping, hundreds of miners are at work, bakers make bread for the slumberers to consume the next day; messengers boys hurry in every direction, firemen jump from their cots at the sound of the gong, ready to protect the sleepers from the ravages of fire; officers pace the streets in an effort to keep order; telephone girls are always on the alert to answer midnight call and hundreds of others stop only long enough to eat their midnight luncheon and then continue until dawn gives them the signal to retire.

Janitors and porters spend the weary hour of the night with their brushes and mops, preparing the hotel lobbies and business blocks for the next day’s work.  Often times, these creatures are overworked, and they are helped in some cases by their wives, sisters and friends.

Night scenes among the railway employees are filled with variety.  The hours of these night workmen are long, most of them coming on duty at 6:30 o’clock in the evening and working until that time in the morning.  In the switching yards, the night visitor may see the most interesting side of railroading.  In stations along the line, there are yard clerks, watchmen, roundhouse employees, car checkers and night operators.  The Missouri Pacific employs a force of 15 men during the night.  This includes a baggage man and operator at the passenger depot, yardmen and roundhouse employees, who are kept busy with the engines, keeping them clean and in repair.  The Frisco employs 16 and the Kansas City Southern nearly as many.

In Joplin there are at least a half dozen restaurants kept open throughout the entire night.  Waiters, cashiers, cooks and dishwashers have little time during these long hours for idleness.  In the saloons, which are never closed until the lid smothers the lights early Sunday morning, there are at least two men – the bartender and the porter.  Some places employ three men, and even four men during the night.

A large number of private watchmen work during the night.  Almost every person knows of the 14 patrolmen who guard the city by night, few stop to think of the many, who, in factories and stores, tramp ceaseless, only stopping at intervals to rest.  Some firms have old men for the work of watchmen, and others only employ young men.  The work is lonely and the hours are long, and in many firms the watchmen are on a constant tramp.  Next is the squad of regular officers, whose work is just as tiresome – but with much more variety perhaps, than that of the private watchmen.  Some are patrolling gloomy alleys, while others are watching the stores and residences, always ready to defend the lives and possessions of their sleeping brothers.

Electricians may be summoned to fix broken wires.  Often times they have to climb roofs and fire escapes [while the] working world is asleep, is an experience of unusual interest.

For a spectacular sight, one should visit a foundry.  During the day it may be interesting, but at night when in dark and dangerous places, where only great care makes the feat possible.

To visit the industrial places of Joplin night, when a weird quietness hangs over the city, and the day-darkness settles over the city, the scene is one of splendor.  At present, however, there are few foundries working night shifts.

Among the unceasing of the night are the dozen or more cab and baggage drivers of Joplin.  It matters not whether the weather be warm or cold, rain or snow, these fellows go just the same.

As near as can be estimate, there are thirty restaurant employees laboring during the entire night and about the same number at the hotels.  The hotels employ a night clerk, one or two porters, as many bell boys, an engineer and sometimes a helper for the latter.  From 20 to 25 saloon employees are at work, and in more than 100 concentrating mills, that operate at night, about 500 men tramp to and fro to their work as the sun rises and sets.  Engineers, electricians and watchmen are kept busy at the lighting plants, there being about 12 in all.  One postal clerk operates at the post office between the hours of six o’clock in the evening and four in the morning, when he is relieved.  About six telephone girls remain at the boards from 10 o’clock at night until 6 in the following morning.

Three of the bakeries work night shifts, there being a score or more of breadmakers all told.  14 firemen stay ready to respond to their calls, and three telegraph operators at are at work in the Western Union and postal companies’ offices.  Three or four messenger boys work throughout the entire night, and often times others are summoned to help the boys with their messages.

The Globe a force of 26 men, who all work until the grey hours of the morning.  From 2 to 4 nurses are on the alert at St. John’s hospital.  The Wells Fargo Express company employs two men during the night, and many others grind out their work night after night.

To give complete details about Joplin’s toilers of darkness would be almost an impossibility, but there is one other fact highly worthy of notice.  While women have, to some extent, usurped the places of men in many occupations and callings of the day, the sterner sex has yet a monopoly on night work.  Except for the telephone operators, there are few women night workers.  It is estimated not more than 5% of the night workers are women.”

 

Source: Joplin Daily Globe

Hello Girls Go On Strike!

Hello Girls

Hello Girls, which we have written about in previous posts, were known for their helpful and sunny disposition. Occasionally they found a reason to strike. In one instance that occurred in 1902, the sixteen day-shift Hello Girls employed at the central office of the Mineral Belt Telephone Company went on strike. Callers from 7:00 to 7:25 p.m. were undoubtedly confused when they picked up the phone and found that no operator could be reached.

Did they strike because of poor wages, low morale, or chauvinist bosses? No. They went on strike because the company hired one Winnie Arnold. Miss Arnold was a “blonde young lady from South Joplin. It was on her first night shift that her would-be colleagues decided, “her society was not acceptable to us, although she does work at night. We are endeavoring to keep within our ranks a class of workers, who are patient to all the whims of the patrons of the telephone.” After complaining about Miss  Arnold to the company’s superintendent, he promised, “she could work no longer.” Presumably she was asked to leave the company’s employ and found work somewhere else.

While just a brief episode in Joplin’s history, the article provides some insight into the social class thinking of turn-of-the-century Joplin society. Young men and women who did not meet the societal standards of Victorian America could expect to be frowned upon by members of the middle and upper classes. The best society women did not work, but for those young women who did seek to earn a living, a desk job under the watchful eye of male managers provided a safe and morally clean environment. Those who could not meet the social and moral code of the day were not tolerated, lest their influence corrupt or taint their fellow young women.

With the coming of women’s suffrage, prohibition, World War I, and the swift pace of change during the 1920s, life changed dramatically in the next few decades for women.  Such fears over the influence of individuals from one class or another, good or bad, waned.  The result was a post-Victorian society that has evolved into the present day.  Hopefully, the South Joplin girl was able to find a new job with better coworkers.

Life as a Hello Girl

In 1910, the Joplin News-Herald ran a story about the advantages of working as a “Hello Girl.” The News-Herald remarked that while it might not be fun to “sit up to a switchboard and come in contact with the varying dispositions of several hundred people each day” there were “some things about the work of the central girl at the Home Telephone company’s office in this city that probably come to no other working girls in town.”

Hello Girls operating the telephone board

Hello Girls operating the telephone board

Despite hearing about “heartless corporations” the News-Herald assured readers that this was not the case with the Home Telephone Company located in a building on Joplin Street.  Since 1906, girls were treated to an on-site “culinary department and lunch rooms.” The News-Herald reporter, unable to curb their enthusiasm, gushed, “A lunch room and a kitchen in the telephone plant!” On “pleasant days” a light lunch was served, but when the weather turned bad, regular dinners were served that were, “equal to those of the best restaurants in town.” Girls were guaranteed a free lunch twice a day.

When the operators were at work on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other holidays, the company served large dinners in the company dining room so that the girls could at least have a hot dinner during the holiday.  Empty stomachs and “improper food”, the company believed, could affect an employee’s disposition.  Lunches and holiday meals meant, “congenial employment, pleasant surroundings, and the saving of considerable money in the course of a year.”

Even more astonishing, at least at this time in history, was the fact that the company also had “baths, individual lockers, and a rest room, or sitting room” that was overseen by a “regularly employed matron.” Should a girl seem exhausted or ill, she would be sent to the rest room or home.  Mrs. R.L.Whitsel, the company’s matron, was hailed as, “experienced and efficient.”

A telephone operator circa 1911.

This unnamed telephone operator from 1911 is representative of telephone operators of the time.

If the weather was nasty, the company paid for closed carriages to pick up girls at their homes to bring them to the office.  Once their shift was over, a carriage would transport the girl safely back to her home.  The company’s management realized that “healthy, happy, and well cared for girls are more likely to be cheerful and pleasant to their patrons and more prompt in service than girls who are overworked and neglected.” Wet clothes were considered “hard on the disposition and health of the girls and the telephone company prefers to have its employees happy and cheerful, even if that means occasional bills for carriages.”

Given the number and types of jobs available in Joplin at the time, it appeared that if a young woman could secure a job as a Hello Girl, she found herself with a relatively comfortable means of income.  It also represented a time period when society felt that young women deserved an extra amount of protection from the theoretical evils of the business world, where vicious characters lurked to take advantage of young, innocent women.  Never the less, this legacy of care from the Victorian world seemed to offer some of the women of Joplin a safe and inviting place to work.

Source: Joplin News Herald, 1910

Joplin’s Hello Girls

In 1905, Joplin residents who picked up the phone to place a call would have heard a cheerful “Hello Central!” Joplin’s “Hello Girls” were said to be a “combination of encyclopedia, dictionary, city directory, blue book, weather vane, atlas, human alarm clock, and bureau of information in general.” Altogether there were thirty-five young women who were responsible for directing calls in the city of Joplin. Twenty-two of the telephone operators were assigned to the main line and answered an estimated 16,000 calls per day.

The Bell Telephone Company of Joplin, Missouri

Some of Joplin's Hello Girls likely worked at the Bell Telephone Company's building.

One night operator on the Bell line of the Missouri & Kansas Telephone Company spoke with a Joplin Globe reporter regarding an average work night. “Oh, they just ask everything,” the operator replied when asked what people asked when making a call. “So many people ring up to ask when the next street car goes to Carthage, or to Galena, and whether the East Joplin dinky is running today. Then there’s the trains. It would be folly for a central operator not to know the exact time of departure from and arrival of every train in Joplin, and if we don’t want to get our heads taken off by an information craving public, we’d better known just how late that Frisco from the west is tonight, and whether the Katy carries passengers on its local freight.”

It was also not uncommon for folks to pick up the phone to find out the time of day. The operator slyly remarked that she believed some folks did so just to save on the price of an office clock. Joplin residents also picked up the phone to find out where a fire was, often ringing up the operator to gasp, “Where’s the fire, Central?”

Although an operator might receive a dozens of calls on a night when the fire alarms rang incessantly, at least one operator did not mind the inquisitive phone calls, telling the Globe reporter, “We all sort of have a mutual interest in fires, and it’s a sort of human weakness, I’ll admit, to realize that we are very important for once in our little lives. It makes us sort of proud, you see, and we just answer away with might and main telling them all where the fire alarm came from.”

Other common questions the operators received were regarding the dates and times of church services, the location of specific mines, the meaning of words, the authors of books, and even “what the sign is when you dream you saw your fellow.”

Operators displayed patience with their customers, especially in the case of the elderly who were often hesitant to speak into a phone and would forget who they wanted to speak to, including one older lady who would call up and say, “Oh, I want to talk to a woman, she lives out on, oh, I forgot the street and I can’t think of her name. She’s a milliner.”

A telephone operator circa 1911.

This unnamed telephone operator from 1911 is representative of telephone operators of the time.

Besides patience, an encyclopedic knowledge of train schedules, businesses, and people, the other essential quality needed in a “Hello Girl” was youth. Acting Secretary H.E. Scovern of the Home Telephone Company told the reporter that, “It’s not altogether an easy thing to secure the desirable sort of operators. We have them here from fifteen years up, but the girl of seventeen makes the very best. She’s quick and alert and readily learns the run of the business and the professional men the line caters to. She must know them all, and there are something like 1,300 phones to keep in mind.” Scovern said a “Hello Girl” had the instinct of Sherlock Holmes and the cunning of an expert in the dead letter department at the Post Office. He praised one operator who, through her extensive memory and ability to analyze voices, could detect “fraudulent use of the toll board exchange” and despite the many “rag chewings and some unpleasantness” proved a “valuable guardian of the company’s interests.”


Sources: Library of Congress and the Joplin Globe.