(Photo of Emily Lander courtesy of SaskTel)
While writing about City Battery and Irvin Hassan, I became curious about the history of the telephone in Saskatchewan. SaskTel, the province’s phone company has a timeline on their website and one of the points that piqued my interest was Emily Lander, Saskatchewan’s first telephone operator.
Emily was born in England in 1870. She and her sister Lucy lived in Regina with their older sister Edith and Edith’s husband William, a butcher. In 1887, Peter Lamont opened the first telephone exchange in Saskatchewan at his bookstore, and that was the year Emily became an operator.
Early switchboard operators had been mostly teenage boys because boys had worked in telegraph offices, and in large cities the job could be physically demanding. In some phone exchanges, workers had to climb ladders to reach the jacks at the top of the switchboard. But teenage boys did what teenagers do, and played pranks and were rude to callers. The Boston Phone Company was the first to hire a woman switchboard operator, Emma Nutt*, in 1878. By the time Emily became an operator, most operators were women. Customers liked that women had softer voices and were more polite than the boys had been. Of course, phone companies liked that they could get better work and pay them less than they had paid the boys.
In my online searching, I couldn’t find anything else about Emily Lander. I guess she did what most women who “disappear” from the record do, which was get married. I like to think that she lived into old age when she could just dial the phone without having to ask the operator to make the connection, and smiled at the wonder of it all.