More than any other series the 119-episode Hazards of Helen (1914–17) was an adventure of the workplace, conveying a no nonsense feminism amid action stories about a woman’s capacity to do her job—and then some! It consisted of relatively self-contained episodes unified by Helen’s role as a railroad telegraph operator at a remote western depot, where she was usually the only woman in a man’s world. As if caught in some Sisyphean time warp, Helen began each episode with the men around her presuming that she was too weak and incompetent to do her job, and then proving herself the company’s fearless savior. A week later, she would take up her post again, all previous heroism forgotten.
In America women had worked as telegraph operators from the 1840s. In 1915, there were about 12,000 female telegraphers—about 20 percent of the total—but fewer than 3 percent of railroad operators were women. These served largely at remote locations not desired by male employees.