Sarah Bagley – Lowell mill girl, writer, labor activist – was born in New Hampshire on April 19, 1806. Historian Tom Dublin writes of Sarah Bagley – “she was one of the most important labor leaders in New England during the 1840s. An outspoken advocate of shorter workdays for factory operatives and mechanics, she campaigned tirelessly to make ten hours of labor per day the maximum in Massachusetts…” Bagley helped found the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association – and became its first president.
While in Lowell working at the Hamilton Mill – Bagley published one of her first stories – “Pleasures of Factory Life” – in an 1840 issue of the Lowell Offering. The Offering was a literary magazine written, edited and published by working women, some of them very young. Their purpose was to show the world that women who worked could also write and have a thirst for learning.
In late November 1842, 70 weavers at the Middlesex Mills walked off their jobs, protesting the requirement to tend two looms instead of one. Shortly after this “turn-out” or strike – Bagley left the Hamilton Mills and went to work for the Middlesex Mills as a weaver… Between 1842 and 1844, over 1,000 textile workers left Lowell as a result of an economic depression, which caused wage cuts and stretch-outs. In March 1844, under improved economic conditions the Lowell textile corporations raised the wages of male textile workers but not female workers to the 1842 levels.
Of note – on this day February 21, 1846 –
In 1846 a new business of sending messages along wires called the magnetic telegraph had just opened an office in Lowell, and Sarah Bagley was hired on February 21, 1846 as the first female telegrapher in the United States. Not only did she tap out messages, but she helped people write their messages and letters. Early in 1847, Bagley was contracted to run the magnetic telegraph office in Springfield, Massachusetts. In Springfield, she was very unhappy to discover that she earned only three-quarters as much as the man she replaced. She wrote to a friend of her growing commitment to human equality and the rights of women.
A year later she returned to Lowell from Springfield to stay with her brother. While back in Lowell, she traveled throughout New England, writing about health care, working conditions, prison reform and women’s rights. She believed that it was through the political process of passing laws that society would improve the working conditions and the quality of life for woman.
(Information noted from writings of Tom Dublin, Martha Mayo and referenced in Wikipedia.)