Last year as the 2013 capital Fringe closed Iwas already beginning to wonder what I would be telling in 2014. My show Arlington National Cemetery: My Forever Home had gone well and I knew I would be back. So I was on the look-out for an idea or a story to bring back.
When I first heard about the The Hello Girls – well – it was a “siren’s song.”
Not only a grand story about brave and gutsy women but what we storytellers all dream of finding – a brand new story to tell.
I was enchanted by it from the first and knew this was the story I would tell at the 2014 Capital Fringe.
Since last year when I introduced Arlington National Cemetery: My Forever Home my focus has shifted from purely personal stories to exploring works that touch on military matters and veterans.
The Hello Girls is about 233 American women telephone operators who went to France during World War One, worked near the battlefields and when they came home had fight for the veterans rights they had expected. And the fight took 60 years. 233 went to France. Only 18 were alive in 1979 to receive their Honorable Discharges. They never gave up. But still their story slipped out of known history.
When General John Pershing, the Allies Commander, reached France in 1917, to bring the “Yanks” to the battlefield he was shocked to discover that the French telephone system did not meet his needs. He sent a message to the War Department. “Send over 100 French speaking telephone operators as fast as you can recruit them.” When he sent that message he knew there would be a problem. Women dominated the field of telephone operators. He was asking the War Department to send 100 women to war. They balked at first but finally relented.
Pershing knew the war would be won by more than guns – they needed excellent communications with the battlefields and all the camps. He also knew that the women were an experiment for the US Army Signal Corps. The women knew this too and they were determined to succeed.
General Pershing is known to have said, “These women will be as important to our winning victory as the boys in khaki.”
My story has been in process for a year from the idea to telling it often to supportive audiences, After a house concert for a practice run of The Hello Girls a storyteller friend said, “Ellouise, this is I a cracklingly good story.”
Drawing story from memoirs, interviews and newspaper articles is not a new process for me as I came to storytelling through Genealogy. Since I am a storyteller known for telling “personal” stories I was intrigued by the challenge of telling someone else’s story in a way that brings them to life.
From the first I wanted these women to tell the story themselves.
But deciding to write myself out of the story as a Narrator and instead to play the three characters I selected – now that is a completely new approach for me. It’s a challenge and I am loving it.
That the story is almost completely unknown attracted me immediately. Anyone who knows me and my history as an activist for the Equal Rights Amendment will understand that a chance to “give them their due” enticed me.
These gutsy women stepped up to serve their country at war and their story captures your heart.
American women telephone operators, answering our country’s call to service in France during WWI, were key in winning Allied victories, only to return home unacknowledged and nearly forgotten … until now. This summer, at Cap Fringe 2014, you can meet them through their stories.
CAOS on F Street N.W, Washington, DC 20004
Thursday, July 10, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 12, Noon
Tuesday, July 15, 8:15 p.m.
Wednesday, July 16, 7:45 p.m.
Sunday, July 20, 5:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 26, 8:15 p.m.
Air-Conditioned Venue Handicapped Access Limited Seating
Purchase tickets online, or call (866) 811-4111
This is my 5th Capital Fringe presenting a new show which I have created and perform. The Fringe is a terrific opportunity to experiment with new material. In the past the reviews of my shows have been great and helped me to promote the shows out-of-town.
Since I began storytelling 25 years ago I have been known for telling stories with heart and humor as well as for my support of women’s issues and the importance of telling family stories.
Based in Chevy Chase, Maryland, I perform nationwide, am featured on 2 MMCTV cable shows and I was honored to one the speakers for the 2013 TEDx Bethesda Women Special.
For more info: ellouiseschoettler.com