"Maman said to me today that being born amid so much change is what makes me an adventurous soul, born without the restrictions of the last century upon me. Born into a new time for women and for the world. She says something similar every year."
—Simone on her eighteenth birthday[2]

Simone Mercier Cates (née Spencer; born January 1, 1900) was a switchboard operator during World War I. She was the daughter of Brigitte and Mr. Spencer, and younger sister of William. Simone grew up in New York City. In 1918, she joined the United States' Signal Corps as a "Hello Girl".


Early life

Simone was born on January 1, 1900.[2] Her father was an American from the wealthy Spencer family of New York City. He met and married Brigitte while vacationing in France. Simone was their second child after William, who later married the "society" girl, Caroline Lawson.

World War I

After America joined the Great War in April 1917, Simone's brother Will enlisted in the army. He was shipped off to France in June. Meanwhile, Simone, having graduated from high school, was looking for her path in life. She volunteered at the YMCA and later at her father's hospital with her best friend, Francie Walker. There she helped a patient named Thomas Brennan.

Simone later decided to join the United States' Signal Corps, but she was too young. By Thanksgiving, the age requirement was lifted. Her parents were surprisingly calm about her decision to join up. In January 1918, Simone's training as a switchboard operator started and head to the Western Front that March. On the ship, she befriended Alice Kealy. They were stationed in Chaumont, France, where Simone was reunited with Will. She also met Sam Cates there and fell in love with him.

Will and Sam were sent to the front lines, while Simone and Alice were placed in Neufchâteau. Several weeks later, Alice became sick and died soon after. In September, Simone was also transferred to the front lines. The war officially ended on November 11, 1918. She lingered in Europe for some weeks, hoping to find Will and Sam. At home, Will informed her that Sam was dead, but she did not believe him. Shortly before Christmas, Simone found a wounded Sam at her father's hospital.

Later life

Simone and Sam were married on May 25, 1920 in Central Park. She became a physical therapist, while Sam worked for Will's real estate business. The couple later moved to Boston so Sam could attend Harvard Law School. In 1929, Will lost most of his money in the stock market crash. Simone and Sam returned to her parents' home in New York City. There he became an advocate for immigrants and Simone worked at her father's hospital.

Her parents later moved to Paris, and Will and Caroline to the suburbs. Simone remained in the old family home with her husband and three children for several years. Long after World War II, she and Sam also moved to Paris. They were later buried next to her parents and grandparents.

Personality and traits

Simone lived a rather sheltered, privileged life for the first eighteen years of her life. She loved reading and learning, but disliked school. Simone hardly considered going to college, before moving on to other options. After volunteering as a nurse, she learned that she did not have the knack for it. Simone became a switchboard operator in order in to be useful to the war effort. Her was able to speak English and French.

Family tree

The Spencer-Cates Family Tree
Mr. and Mrs. Spencer
Jeanette Mercier
Christian Mercier
Mr. Spencer
Brigitte Spencer
Caroline Lawson
William Spencer
(b. 1896)
Simone Spencer
(b. 1900)
Samuel Cates

Behind the scenes



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