February 21, 1846 — Sarah Bagley (April 19, 1805 – June 23, 1883) today became America’s first woman telegraph operator.
An advocate for women’s rights, and one of the most important labor leaders in New England during the 1840s, she campaigned to make 10 hours of labor per day the maximum in Massachusetts.
Her activities in support of the mill workers in Lowell, Massachusetts put her in contact with a broader network of reformers in areas of women’s rights, communitarianism, abolition, peace, prison reform, and health reform.
Bagley and her coworkers became familiar with middle-class reform activities, demonstrating the ways in which working people embraced this reform impulse as they transformed and critiqued some of its key elements.
Sarah’s activities within the labor movement reveal many of the tensions that underlay relations between male and female working people as well as the constraints of gender that female activists had to overcome.
Words of Wisdom for February 21, 2017
“I am sick at heart when I look into the social world and see woman so willingly made a dupe to the beastly selfishness of man.”
— Sarah Bagley, 1847, in a letter to Angelique Martin