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Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, a world class museum of railroad history in Strasburg, PA.

Women Telegraphers and the RRs in PA

A Presentation By Scholar In Residence Thomas C. Jepsen

Telegraph key.This presentation was made at  the Museum in March 2003.
An online PowerPoint presentation of  the event is available at Mr. Jepsen's web site (opens in new window).



Ma Kiley.

While little remembered today, telegraphy provided employment to significant numbers of women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Women telegraphers comprised a subculture of technically educated workers whose skills, mobility and independence often set them apart from their contemporaries.

The U. S. Census of 1870, the first to list occupations of women, reported that Pennsylvania had the highest number of female telegraph operators of any state.

  • The Atlantic & Ohio Telegraph Company provided employment to Emma Hunter in West Chester and Helen Mills in Greenville in the early 1850s.
  • Elizabeth Cogley of Lewistown became perhaps the earliest woman to work as a railroad telegrapher for the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1855. She was soon joined by two Pittsburgh operators: Abbie Strubel Vaughan, who operated for the Baltimore & Ohio, and Maria Hogan, who followed her cousin, Andrew Carnegie, into the employment of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
  • Hettie Ogle, manager of the Johnstown Western Union office, lost her life while remaining at her station to warn others of the impending Johnstown Flood in 1889.

Telecommunications systems professional Thomas C. Jepsen’s books include “My Sisters Telegraphic: Women in the TeIegraphic Office 1846-1950” and “Ma Kiley: The Life of a Railroad Telegrapher.” Jepsen also has researched and written on the telegraphic and communications industry and American frontier women.

This presentation is part of the Museum's commitment to both historical research and the development of understanding of social themes affecting railroads, including the realities of racial, gender, cultural, labor, and social relationships. Researchers may also wish to consult:  American Railroad Women, Women in Railroading, and American Council of Railroad Women.

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