I sure like it when family lore meets reality and wins. I was told my great aunt, Maria Alexine Lassalle, was a member of the Signal Corp. during WWI. My only proof was an unidentified photograph. Thanks to one of our readers, I now I have proof.
Why Would A French Immigrant Be In The U.S. Signal Corp.?
During WWI the U.S. Army needed translators. A special branch was created within the Signal Corp. for female recruits. These women because the first official U.S. Army female service members.
In The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers the story of these independent and smart women is told. What was a Hello Girl? She was someone who had an education and was fluent in French and English.
Recruits went through training to prepare them for the task at hand. They learned how to operate a switchboard. Then, they were taught how to translate messages from French to English for the army.
Marie Lassalle’s Service
I wrote a bit about the mystery surrounding Marie Lassalle’s military service in my post “Women In The Signal Corp: Was My Great Aunt A Hello Girl?” Thanks to someone at the Fountaindale Public Library District’s Genealogy Blog I was referred to the U.S. Army Transport Services Database, 1919-1939 where I found information about Marie.
This is the information from the entry:
#35 Marie Alexine Lassalle.
Her father’s name: (though he is listed as her mother): Pierre Lasalle
Her father’s residence: Ogeu les bains, Basses Pyrenes [sic], France
There were two record from which I got this glimpse into her service:
Departure date: 28 Jun 1918
Port of Departure: New York, New York
Ship: The Lapland
Military Unit: Female Civilian Telephone Operator
Notes: Signal Corp. Operators (Female), Unit no. 4
On the 8th of August 1918, she left France
Port of Departure: Bordeaux, France
Ship: The Niagara.
The information on her services varies only slightly.
Military Unit: S.C.
Notes: Telephone Operator/Signal Corp.
So, Marie served oversees for roughly a month and a half.
Civilian Or Military Service?
Notice that the information from her first record states that she was civilian personnel. Everything I’ve read thus far, points towards the Hello Girls being official military personnel.
They were given rank, duties, and benefits similar to their male counterparts. They had to follow the army code of conduct. They were supposed to earn veteran status once their service ended.
After the war was over, the army decided that their regulations don’t mention women. Therefore, these women couldn’t possibly be veterans. Their fight for recognition took decades.
I don’t know what to think of the record stating she has civilian status. She seems to have military rank in the second record. Looks like I have more research to do.
The Hello Girls Were An Elite Group
What Marie accomplished is no small potatoes. Just think about the process!
The army recruited Hello Girls nationwide. 1,750 signed up for service. 450 went through the special training. Only 233 were selected. Marie was one of them. I think that makes her pretty darn special!
I’m no expert, but my own research tells me that the percentage of women with a formal education in 1918 was low. The attitude that girls did not need to go to school was prevalent and persistent.
It makes me wonder how much education Marie had before she left France. I also think her English must have been a heck of a lot better than her brother’s (my grandfather). Jean’s English was fractured and mangled. He wasn’t comfortable with English and we couldn’t understand him very well. One of cousins who is older than me called it Franglish.
We can move one family story into the proven category. That sure feels nice!
Tell us about the women in your tree who were in the military!