This Week in New England History: The First Woman Telegrapher in the U.S.

 

By Carla Charter

 

The events that led up to Sarah George Bagley of Lowell, Ma. becoming the first U.S. Female Telegrapher, on January 24, 1846 began in December of 1844. Bagley and five other women met and formed the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association which worked towards improved health conditions and a ten hour day for workers.

As the society grew, a newspaper also formed, The Voice of Industry. Sarah had a column for the paper and published articles in it as well. This wasn’t her first time writing. She had had one of her first stories published in a Lowell paper, called the Lowell Offering, in 1840.

In June 1846, John Allen became the editor of the Voice of Industry and fired Sarah. Sarah wrote that Allen” does not want a female department it would conflict with the opinions of the mushroom aristocracy that he seeks to favor, and besides it would not be Dignified.” Sarah began looking for another job.

A telegraph office, a new concept at the time, had recently opened in Lowell.  It was then that Sarah was hired as the first Female Telegrapher in the U.S.  Along with tapping out messages Sarah also helped people write and send their messages and letters.

In 1847, Sarah was contracted to run a magnetic telegraph office in Springfield. She took the job, only to unhappily discover that there she only earned two-thirds of what the men earned. By 1848, she had found her way back to Lowell working in the mills.

Over the years Bagley’s work on behalf of others continued as she traveled New England writing about health care, working conditions, prison reform and women’s rights. In 1853 she and her husband James Durno moved to New York and worked as homeopathic physicians. Durno died in 1873 and Sarah died about ten years later.

Carla Charter is a historian, blogger, journalist and author. Her books Across Lots, Miracle of Faith, Call to Freedom and Abolitions Verse can be found at Amazon.com