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A Look Back... continued

Sarah G. Bagley
(dates unknown)

Bagley, a native of New Hampshire, began work in a Lowell, Massachusetts, factory in 1836 and by 1844 had begun organizing female operatives into the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association (LFLRA) to combat deteriorating working conditions. The organization quickly grew to include five hundred workers, and Bagley served as its first president. She also spearheaded the petition drive that forced Massachusetts legislators to investigate conditions in the mills, the first-ever governmental investigation into labor conditions. During the legislative hearings in February 1845, she argued in favor of the ten-hour day, which by then was a full-fledged cause among workers. Bagley testified that in addition to suffering physically from their long hours in the mills, female workers lacked sufficient time to improve their minds, an activity she considered essential for laborers in a republic. When the legislature ruled against the women, Bagley was farsighted enough to recognize that male and female workers needed to cooperate to advance their cause and sought affiliation with the New England Workingmen's Association. As one of the editors of that organization's Voice of Industry, she developed a "female department," under the title, "As is Woman, so is the Race." Little is known of Bagley after she left both the LFLRA and the mills in 1846 and went to work as a telegraph operator, perhaps the first woman to hold that job. Although her time in public life was brief, Bagley raised issues relating to the health of workers and their need for sufficient leisure to fulfill civic duties that remain important today, as is her insistence that women are entitled to "be heard and our rights acknowledged . . . ."

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