The Discreet Children
In the early days of the telephone business, many companies were family affairs. Marie Hill was 15 years old when she began working for the San Angelo Telephone Company in Mertzon, Texas in 1917. She worked from 6-8am, went to school and returned to the switchboard from 4-10 pm. Her fiancé, Clarke Williams, Had been a lineman and a manager for the Ozona Telephone Company, and later worked in the payroll department for Southern Bell.
Clarke and Marie were married in 1921, and had three children by the time they bought the Oak Ridge Telephone Company in 1930. The switchboard for the company was located in the Williams’ home, enabling them to man it 24 hours a day. Marie liked having the switchboard in her home because it allowed her to keep a close watch on her children while they played with their friends on the floor in front of the switchboard. There were also two booths in their home for those who did’nt have telephone service in their homes, and wished to talk in private.
Bill collection was also a shared responsibility. Mrs. Williams would manually writeout bills out for each of the company’s 75 customers, and their eight year old son would hop on his bicycle to deliver and collect for each of the bills. Most people paid in cash, but for those that couldn’t, other arrangements were made. Subscribers could make long term payments, or barter with milk and butter, which always led to a surplus of food at the Williams home.
All of the children could operate the switchboard, and the Williams’ had conscientiously tried to drill into their kids that, as operators, whatever they heard over the switchboard was private and was never to be repeated. Once a curious lady called and wanted to find out the details of an event in town. She quizzed each of the young operators as she happened to catch them on the switchboard. After each one had denied knowing anything about the event, she was finally heard to say as she hung up, “You are the know-nothingest children I have ever seen.”