As soon as the telephone arrived in France, calls were managed by female operators.
The “demoiselles du téléphone” were required to be single and in perfect health. Initially, they worked standing up, and later they were allowed to sit down.
In Narbonne and the Aude region:
The first urban and interurban network in the Aude department was created on 8 August 1892 in Narbonne.
Only Le Courrier de Narbonne of 11 August reports on the start of service. The telephone exchange was located at the present-day Place du Colonel Deymes next to the Narbonne MJC (“Centre for Youth and Culture”). Three “demoiselles du télphone” provided service from 7am to 9pm. The network had only 17 subscribers at the time.
A phone book from April 1901 shows 81 subscribers in Narbonne (57 in Carcassonne).
As of 1906, Narbonne had nearly 300 telephone subscribers.
The crisis that occurred between 1906 and 1920 slowed down the development of the telephone network in the Aude region.
In 1917, the Narbonne telephone exchange was destroyed by fire.
On 22 February 1936, the general council voted in favour of a credit of 3.5 million francs for the installation of rural automatic telephone networks in the department. These networks were put into service within the six telephone groups of Quillan, Limoux, Castelnaudary, Carcassonne, Lézignan, and Narbonne.
Full automation of telephone services in the department was completed on 3 December 1976. Officially, there were no longer any operators in the Aude region.
6 September 1983 saw the inauguration of the Narbonne-Tuileries (Paris) electronic exchange.
In the display case in front of you:
On the top left, the typical equipment of a female operator of the 1930s with the breastplate microphone, which was placed on the chest, and the headset. Next to these items is a four-way operator’s station from 1920.
Below, an operator’s station from the 1920s. The counterweights were used to lower the jack (the plug) after the subscriber was disconnected.
On the middle shelf, there are two operator boards from the 1960s and 1970s.
In the next display case, above, two call announcing boards. When a call came in, the metal flap flipped down and “announced” the call.
On the middle shelf, two wall-mounted operator boards that could be installed in a factory or an office.
At the bottom right is a five-way operator board.
Next to the board, on the left, is a box containing batteries. Until the 1910s, the energy necessary to make telephones work was provided by the subscriber. The technicians of the PTT (French admin. of Postal Services and Telecommunications) would come to change subscriber’s batteries if necessary. The technicians carried the batteries in these boxes.