Dymple Johnson & Southwestern Bell Telephone Operators Strike

Dymple Johnson & Southwestern Bell Telephone Operators Strike image

Event Details

Dates: 3/25/2023
Times: 1 PM
Price: $0 - $10
Venue: Fort Smith Museum of History
320 Rogers Ave. Fort Smith, AR 72901
Contact: 479-783-7841


In honor of Women's History Month, the Fort Smith Museum of History is proud to bring author, historian and native son, Ben Boulden, home to present, "The Story of Dymple Johnson and the Southwestern Bell Telephone Operators’ Strike."

Tickets: $10 for Non-Members. FREE to FSMH Members and UAFS Students.
Please show your member card/student ID at door.

Ben Boulden Writes...

"In the fall of 1917, World War I was nearing the end of its third year in Europe, and Bolshevik revolutionaries were seizing power in Russia. However, in Fort Smith, women were choosing change by the ballot, not the bullet.

On Nov. 13, 1917, Dymple Johnson — who also holds the title of being Arkansas’ first female dental hygienist — became the first woman to vote in a public election in the entire South; Arkansas was the first Southern state to allow any voting by women.

In February 1917, the Arkansas Legislature had passed and Gov. Charles Brough signed into law a measure allowing women to vote in party primaries, to be held in May 1918. But months before any other Arkansas women could vote in those elections, Fort Smith that day had a special mayoral election to replace ousted Mayor John Heskitt Wright (who, oddly, was one of the candidates on the ballot to replace himself). Local officials considered it a primary, making it the first time a woman could vote in the South.

The story of how that special election came about in the first place is colorful history, and integrally tied to other newly politically active Fort Smith women that fall."

Ben Boulden is a Fort Smith native. Except for much of the 1980s, he lived in the city for most of his life. In 1986, he earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Missouri, studied abroad for one year at the University of Manchester in the UK, and earned his master’s degree in history from the University of Arkansas in 1992. Boulden taught courses in Arkansas history and America in the Gilded Age at what was then Westark College from 1999 to 2002.

He served as vice-president of the Fort Smith Historical Society, worked on the Journal of the Fort Smith Historical Society for several years, was the creator of, and served for four years on the board of the Fort Smith Museum of History, including a year as museum president.

Beginning in 1995, he worked in a variety of capacities at the Times Record, including more than eight years as a reporter and columnist. Boulden wrote the weekly “Inquire Within” column for the Times Record for more than seven years, in which forum he has answered probably hundreds of questions regarding local history. He has been married to Jennifer Boulden since 2005.

Boulden's book Hidden History of Fort Smith delves into life in Fort Smith during the days of American westward expansion and the 20th century.

For his lecture, he plans to present information about a strike by women telephone operators on Nov. 13, 1917, and how that led to the first vote in the South by a woman, Dymple Johnson, in a public election.

The strike spurred a general strike, ended up ousting the mayor, and indirectly led to women in Arkansas being allowed to vote before the federal government gave women the right to do so.

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