INTRODUCTION
This book is a history of Bell System telephone operators, their
equipment, and their work processes.∞ It explores the conver-
gence of gender, class, race, and technology in the workplace
by analyzing Bell System research and development policies, investigat-
ing the way management organized work around new technologies, and
identifying the personnel practices that shaped both the workforce and
the application of new technologies. In this context, the study examines
concepts relevant to the feminization of occupations, work and workplace
organization, gender and racial segregation, skill definitions, the intro-
duction of new technologies and their impact on the labor process, cul-
tural factors influencing the dissemination of new technologies, and the
ways in which workers’ responses shape managerial goals.≤ Despite an
extensive literature that describes even the most minute technological
discoveries pertaining to the telephone, little has been written about how
this technology a√ected women’s work in the industry. This book aims to
contribute to correcting this omission by analyzing the impact of technol-
ogy on telephone women’s work from the invention of the telephone in
1876 to the period immediately before the breakup (divestiture) of the
American Telephone and Telegraph Company (at&t) and its associated
companies in 1984.
For this entire period, the Bell System was a leader in technological
development and in hiring large numbers of women. Over time, tele-
phone women’s work process underwent a phenomenal transformation.
The transition from electromechanical to computerized service continu-
ously changed the telephone workplace, constantly creating new employ-
ment possibilities for women. From the time when women entered the
telephone labor force in 1878, their numbers within the industry in-
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