Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in History (MA)

Degree Level





Michael Pierce

Committee Member

Patrick Williams

Second Committee Member

Elliott West


Labor Relations, Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, Women's labor history, World War I


In September 1917, Fort Smith telephone operators formed a local of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Soon after, company leaders dismissed two of the women who were instrumental in the formation of the union. After many attempts to meet and negotiate with the company leaders, the remaining operators walked out and began striking on September 19. This strike lasted almost four months and brought chaos into the city including the indictments, trials, and convictions of the mayor, J. H. Wright, and chief of police, Jim Fernandez. The election after Wright’s conviction saw the first female votes in Arkansas history. This strike is an ideal example of the federal government’s relationship with the labor community at the beginning of World War I and Southwestern Bell Telephone Company’s relationship with labor unions inside their own corporation. However, the strike offers an interesting divergence from the usual relationship between male and female labor unions and the support each of them received from both the public and the federal government. The historiography on this strike is severely limited, and this work attempts to demonstrate why the Fort Smith strike is so vital to women’s labor, labor unrest, and the federal government during the beginning of the United States’ involvement in World War I.