Abstract: A Look into the Future: Images of Women Railroad Telegraphers and Station Agents in Pennsylvania, 1855–1960

Thomas C. Jepsen


In the April 1913 issue of <i>The Pilot</i>, the employees' magazine of the Reading Railroad, a cartoon appeared over the caption, "A Look into the Future," depicting an anxious-looking male railroad employee looking though a magical telescope into a future in which a "Miss R. U. Married" is the station agent at a railroad depot, while other women railroad employees flag trains and drive spikes. His anxiety at being replaced by one of these assertive women reflected the feelings of many male railroaders at a time when the number of female telegraphers and station agents working for the railroads was approaching a peak. This paper looks at some of the roles that women played in the expansion of the railroads in Pennsylvania in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as telegraphers and station agents. It challenges the still commonly held notion that women did not actively participate in the technological advances of the nineteenth century that enabled the development of the railroad and telegraph networks. My paper makes extensive use of the writings and family records of women operators and agents, who, as visible and vocal members of their communities, left an extensive historical record that is only now being rediscovered.