Guest Author: Deeanne Gist Talks About The History of the Telephone

I’m excited for you to meet or get to know Deeanne Gist better. Well-read copies of Love on the Line, Maid to Match, A Bride in the Bargain, Deep in the Heart of Trouble, Courting Trouble, The Measure of a Lady, and A Bride Most Beguiling, Dee’s historical fiction, line my bookshelves. I asked her to share a bit about the history of telephones with us today, but first, a couple of fun facts about the award-winning Deeanne Gist.

  • Four RITA nominations.
  • Two consecutive Christy Awards.
  • Featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal when she did a presentation to RWA about Victorian undergarments.
  • When Dee was in high school, one of the boys was teasing her mercilessly, so in speech class she used him as her “volunteer” to demonstrate how to tie someone up. Once she got him tied up, she then informed the class her speech wasn’t really about how to tie someone up, but about how to surprise them with a pie in the face…as she hit him with a cream filled pie. That sense of humor is part of Dee’s winning writing style.


We have an old rotary pay phone hanging on a wall in our gameroom. I’d always get tickled when teenagers came over and asked how to use it. Yet I found myself in that exact same position while researching my latest release, Love on the Line. It’s about a turn-of-the-century switchboard operator and a Texas Ranger who goes undercover as a telephone repairman.

The only exposure I’d had to switchboards was from the old Laugh-In episodes with Lilly Tomlin (dating myself here). Suffice it to say, I had a lot to learn. Not just about switchboards, but about how telephones worked back in the day. Since my book is set in a rural Texas town, there were party lines. I wasn’t sure how those worked either.

Then, of course, my hero was an undercover telephone repairman. So, I also had to learn how to repair the phones, string the lines, climb a telephone pole, etc. It was quite the education. Did you know they didn’t use safety straps back then? The men simply climbed the pole, then wrapped one leg around it to hold them steady while they did their work. Crazy!

And the telephone operator did much more than connect two parties together. She served as News Central and answered a huge range of questions. What’s playing at the opera house? Who came in on the afternoon train? Where’s the doc? Are the streets outside of town dry or muddy? I lost my cow, will you find out if anyone has seen her?

Talk about having to know everybody’s business! And the party lines were a hoot. Several people would share the same line. Each family had a specific ring. For example, the Smiths might have three short rings. But the Jones had two shorts and one long. Even still, everyone on your line heard the ring and if they wished to pick up and listen in, they certainly could.

Bottom line, I no longer rib the kids when they don’t know how to use our rotary. I simply show them how it works and feel rewarded that I’m passing along a little slice of history to this generation of techno-wizards.

Dee, thanks so much for joining us here on Hindsight today. What a fun look at telephone history. Thanks, too, for the giveaway copy of Love on the Line!

Comments 141

  1. I grew up in a small town and we didnt even have a phone for many years, a neighbor would call if we got important call like from family out of the state. I was happy when Mom finally got one of the old black ones after we were all grown and gone. Phones have came a long way-you cant even find a phone on street like you used to -everyone has cell phones now and I guess I will have to get one someday.
    enjoyed DeeAnn’s comments today,like to read her books too.

  2. Dee I love your sense of humor as it comes across in your writing! 🙂 And love ALL of your books. I really loved learning about switchboards by reading Love on the Line!

  3. I love Deeanne Gist’s books! That Texas gal rocks! I haven’t had a chance to read this one and would love to! Thank you for the opportunity to win it. <3

  4. This is the one Deeanne Gist book I haven’t had a chance to read yet! I’d love to be entered into the drawing. I have to say, I find the whole history of the telephone and switchboards (especially) fascinating. Imagine the ability to eavesdrop on everyone’s conversations! LOL 🙂

  5. I really enjoyed this book. My Moma was a Bell Telephone operator in the early fifties. I loved to hear her stories. I really liked the edgy scene where the heroine was trying to pick out the splinters where the hero had shimmeyed the telephone pole. I would love a signed copy of Deeanne’s work 🙂 Thanks, Susan G (aka `Candle)

  6. We’ve only had cell phones in our house for about ten years. So my kids aren’t even familiar with the way parents could pick up another line quietly and spy.
    I’d love your book. Thanks!

  7. I loved hearing about the pie in the face……oh my soul, would have loved to have seen the expression on the teacher’s face.<3 love your writing……and would love this book.<3

  8. I love Deeanne’s books! I have all of them except Love on the Line. I have love to have that one also. Keep the great stories coming. Thanks!

  9. I love Deeanne’s books! I also found it fascinating to learn how the old switchboards were operated. Dee’s prank in high school is also quite hilarious!

  10. Hi Ladies,
    Where I live my phone lines are so old that occasionally I CAN hear other conversations! It is like a party line. I pray for new phone lines. Sometimes I have gone as much as a week with no phone or internet, while the linemen(bless their hearts) look for the break.
    I would love to win. Have a great day!

  11. Growing up (only when I was very young) we had a party line with one other household. You would be waiting for someone to call you and then realize that the other people would be talking on the line (and had been for the past hour) and that’s the reason you didn’t get the call. It was very obvious when someone picked up and you would know if someone was listening.

  12. Deanne Gist is one of my favorite authors. I have read Love on the Line and loved it! Please choose me! I would love to win this book for my mother, who introduced me to Deeanne Gist and has not yet read the book

  13. I loved “Love on the Line” I read it on Kindle.
    I remember party lines too! My grandfather used to tell “those women” to get off the line because he needed to make a call. I had friends whose parents got them a payphone so they would learn how much it cost to make phone calls. Kids now have no clue.

  14. I even remember the rotary phones! My parents used to have them then changed to the push button phones. This book is awesome! I read it once and can’t wait to read this one and all the other books by Deanne again. She is awesome! One of my favorites!

  15. I love Deeanne’s humor and all of her books! I am currently reading Love on the Line, but would love to win a copy for my Mother-in-Law!

  16. Love this book! It is my favourite one by Deeanne! I liked learning about how the early telephone worked as well as learning more about the Texas Rangers. 🙂

  17. Have read many of your books and I loved them all. Haven’t read this book yet, but can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. 🙂

  18. I love historical fiction and ALWAYS learn something! What would we all do without our phones! Mr. Bell had no idea of the future! Thanks Deanne!

  19. Oooh! I just LOVE reading about history in the form of Deeanne’s books! Haha. Even though history really isn’t my favorite subject, she makes it so interesting! So excited about this opportunity! 🙂

  20. I love Deeanne’s books! She makes me smile with her witty and eloquent sense of humor. I haven’t had the opportunity to read Love on the Line. Looking forward to another great story! Thank you!

  21. Honestly, I’ve never seen a rotary phone OR a switchboard. The earliest phone I remember only had a long cord that I would twirl around my body until my mother would have to untangle me. Deeanne’s books are always so exciting, yet informative. I love this history aspect and how I learn so much about a time period. Hopefully, soon I’ll be telling all of my friends how a switchboard works. Probably not what college kids want to hear, but its interesting and much different than an iPhone!

  22. Loved reading Love on the Line and learning about the old telephone switchboards! But I love Dee’s humor even more! Would enjoy having my own copy of Love on the Line. 🙂

  23. This makes me think about the Andy Griffith show where the business man’s car breaks down on Sunday in Mayberry. He can’t use the telephone because two little old sisters talk to each other for hours on Sunday afternoon. Everyone in Mayberry agree to allow this. The business man almost has a stroke when they tell him. I would love to have this book. Maid To Match has to be my favorite book by Dee. I love Biltmore, and this book took me back to what it must have been like when the Vanderbilts were living there. Awesome!

  24. I would love to win this book! As I have been very neglectful in purchasing it!! I love Dee’s writing style and when I am reading her books, my family says that I laugh out loud all the time!! I enjoy how there is history in the story, I love to always learn! Thanks Dee for sharing your talent from our Lord.
    Bunny P.

  25. Mona, I loved this about Deeanne’s telling about these phones. When I was a kid, people used these wall phones. I found myself telling things before I read about them in the next sentence or paragraph. LOL Yes, there were different rings for each home. You had to pay attention to what the ring was. And, true, others on you’re line could listen in. That was sometimes frustrating. Hopefully we never had too many who were so disrespectful. But, life was so much more simple in those days. I hate that the kids don’t have the outdoor freedoms that we enjoyed. I would love to win Deeanne’s book. Maxie ( ) Thanks!

  26. It’s so interesting to learn about the past through an entertaining story! We’re so blessed to have so many great historical fiction authors writing about the past and keeping it alive. I’ve read several of Mrs. Gist’s books since a friend of mine relentlessly recommended them, but I’ve yet to read Love on the Line, so of course, I would love to get a signed copy. I will also have to put your books on my reading list now too, Mona! Gotta love stories set in the old west!

  27. Well obviously Dee was clever from an early age! I wonder if that prank ended in a detention… might still have been worth it! Looking forward to many more fabulous books from this fabulous gal!

  28. This is the only one of your books I haven’t read yet. I loved all your other ones this is on my to-read list. I love old phones but I wouldn’t have a clue how to use one.

  29. I adored reading Love on the Line! It was very well researched and had great details on switch board operators. It is tied with Maid to Match as my favorite Deeanne Gist books. Thank you hosting a giveaway and thank you Mrs. Gist for giving one of your books away. God Bless!

      1. I have read all of Mrs. Gist’s books. I own all of them too! I happened across Maid to Match one day and ever since then I have bought and read all of her books. I enjoyed Bride in the Bargain. I guess Maid to Match was my favorite since I live in North Carolina and have visited the Biltmore Estate. It made it so much more enriching being able to picture the places she wrote about in the book!

  30. Being a visitor child at my Uncle’s farm, I remember his maiden older sister holding her breath and listening in on every single call whether it was two shorts and one long or 3 longs and one short! Goodness. Was that so interesting? But then… we read all the social media posts! ha ha Kathleen

    I would love to win Love on the Line ~I have not read it~!

  31. What a great group you have, Mona. I enjoyed reading your comments, everyone. I didn’t get in trouble for my prank at all. My speech teacher thought it was hilarious. I weighed about 89 pounds in high school and looked like I was twelve. Needless to say, that boy never teased me again! LOL.

    Love ya’ll! Thanks for having me.

  32. Deeanne is one of my favorite authors her stories are so grate i cant put them down It would make my year if I could get your book, if not then that’s ok to I want to say Deeanne God Bless you And thank you for your wonderful Gift you share with your fans 🙂

  33. I am a new convert to Deeanne’s books and I absolutely love them. I would love to add this to my growing collection of her books.

  34. Another book to add to my collection. Sounds like a good one. I love, LOVE what you did in speech class. Wish I had thought of that. Classic!! Will have to remember that one when my nieces get older and they don’t have a clue what to do for their speech class. 😉

  35. I love her books and can’t wait to read this one! What fascinating information about the telephone. I can’t even begin to imagine what life was like back then and having to know everything that was going on, or pretending not to know 🙂

  36. I don’t consider myself all that old (just turned 41) and I remember visiting my cousins grandmother who had a party line. She lived just outside of town and I guess they were all on party lines in the area. Anyways, I remember the phone would ring and everyone had to be quiet so that they could listen for the number of rings. I completely forgot about that memory until I read your story. I also remember calling my cousin on the party line when she was visiting her gma and being told we had to be quick b/c someone else might want to use the line and they wouldn’t think twice about getting on while we were talking to tell us to get off! That had to have been a little over 30 years ago. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  37. I fell in love with Deeanne Gist’s writing style while reading “A Bride Most Begrudging.” My mom lent me the book, knowing both my love of Christian fiction and my interest in our family name. I found Deeanne’s opening drama quickly drawing me into the story. Her well placed humor and genuine Christian faith expressed throughout the book kept me going until I realized I’d read the final page and must now return to my 21st century world. I’m excited about “Love on the Line” and hope to have my very own copy soon. After I finish reading, I’ll share it with my mom.
    P.S. We had a party line telephone when I was a little girl. 😀

  38. While I sometimes wish we had the simplicity and innocence of earlier times, I am definitely thankful for some modern conveniences – like phones! I am very much looking forward to reading this book. Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy!!!

  39. I also read The Dog Walker by Dee and J. Mark Bertrand. This is a great book! I don’t see any remarks about people reading this book. It takes place in Charleston, SC. It has intrigue. It is a great book!

    1. Ok, the brain is totally mush. The dog walker story is Beguilled. I have had a couple of blips like this nice my 24yr old son passed away this past September, while having a seizure. My CPR didn’t help, and he died in my arms. My apologies to Deeanne, Mona, and all readers and posters. It is a good book, but my favorite so far is Maid to Match.

      1. No worries, Pam. I knew that was the book you meant. I loved Maid to Match too.
        Oh, Pam, so sorry to hear about the loss of your son. What a heartbreak. May God hold you close and whisper love and comfort into your heart. Hugs from me. Mona

  40. Pingback: Underwear for the 19th Century Lady « Hindsight by Mona Hodgson

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