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JPR Feature
Medford's "Miss Telephone Company"   
Wednesday August 24, 2005
By Craig Stillwell

Welcome to As It Was: Tales from the State of Jefferson

Making a phone call today is as easy as dialing a number. A century ago, however, one needed the help of a live operator. Legions of young females, seated before large switchboards, manually connected the phone lines. For many decades, one woman, Myrta [MURR-tah] Otterdale, reigned over Medford's phone service, earning her the title of "Miss Telephone Company."

A 1919 graduate of Medford High School, Myrta began her job as an operator for Pacific Telephone and Telegraph on July 4, 1920. After working in the Ashland office for two weeks, she was transferred to Medford. Within months she was promoted to Chief Operator and then transferred back to Ashland, where she supervised a handful of operators. A self-described perfectionist, she carefully selected her girls for their "character as well as ability."  In 1929, she became Chief Operator of Medford.

Myrta Otterdale was active in several civic organizations, such as the Red Cross and Chamber of Commerce. She also traveled widely. One trip in 1939 took her by train to Flint, Michigan; there she bought and drove home a 1940 Buick coupe, which she was still driving in 1985. Myrta retired in 1966, truly a pioneer of the communication age.

Today's episode of As It Was was written by Craig Stillwell, the program engineer is Raymond Scully.  I'm Shirley Patton. As It was is a co-production of JPR and the Southern Oregon Historical Society.  To Share stories or learn more about the series visit asitwas - dot- org

Jewett, Dick, "Phone Operator Served 461/2 Years," The Mail Tribune, June 6, 1985, pp. 20, 22

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