My Cousin Was a Telephone Operator

Marilyn in the wagon at Nanny’s and Poppy’s. Detroit Michigan, 1955.

This week the Sepia Saturday theme is telephones or telephone operators. I would like to write about my cousin Marilyn’s amazing career as a telephone operator for Bell Telephone Company in Detroit.  She started working in 1981 and continued until her retirement in 2008.

My cousin Marilyn at work.
My cousin Marilyn at work.  Photo taken in 1989.

My cousin sent me a photograph of herself at work with the phone company. She wrote a bit about her years at there:

At Michigan Bell Telephone Co, which turned into AT&T Inc. Worked from 1981 to 2008 (about 28 years)

  • Information operator (“What city?”)
  • Also worked as a clerk in the company and
  • A telephone booth $ collector (Drove a big truck with a hard had, lots of keys hanging on side – 2 way radio “walkie talkie.”

Unfortunately I do not have any photographs of Marilyn at the switchboard so I am inserting a photo grab from one of my favorite movie, Danzón (María Novaro, 1991). The whole movie (Spanish, no subtitles) is available on YouTube in more than 10 parts. I would advise renting the movie. It has everything, dancing, true love, a fine young man on a boat, good hearted prostitutes, female impersonators, friendship, motherhood, aging. I found it on Netflix here and also cheap on Amazon.

Telephone Operators in the movie Danzón (María Novaro, 1991). María Rojo, Carmen Salinas, Tito Vasconcelos.
For more posts featuring telephone operators and more, click.

24 thoughts on “My Cousin Was a Telephone Operator

  1. I’ll definitely put that movie on my Netflix que. It looks really interesting and the music sounds amazing.

  2. I looked for the movie on Netflix with no luck. It does sound interesting. I was surprised that your cousin was able to work as an operator for so long. It seems that all I ever get anymore are automated voices.

    Marilyn is certainly a cutie in that wagon.

  3. I’m interested in the movie. We have our computer hooked up to our tv and use a wireless mouse. I just may watch this on YouTube, Kristin!
    Have you ever seen “Volver” with Penelope Cruz? You might like it!

  4. I wanted to be a telephone operator was I was a pre-schooler. I thought it would be the most fun job in the whole world. Thanks for bringing back an old memory.

  5. Of course prostitutes are “good hearted”!!
    They have to be to put up with the crap some men pull…
    Back when I started working at the hospital,
    they used to hang out in that district,
    and they were always nice to me as we’d wish each other a good night.

  6. Oh what a cutie she was in the wagon, I was sure the next photos would show her at work, but not so; it is interesting that so many this week had expeience or family members who worked the lines.

  7. I think of this job as being similar to an air traffic controller. Trying to keep track of so much information at once. Worried you will disconnect what could be a life saving call. A lot of pressure. And I imagine a big sigh of relief at the end of each shift.

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