Telegraph Service


Women Telegraph Operators in the Civil War

Elizabeth Cogley (Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
Elizabeth Cogley (1833-1922)
Telegrapher, Pennsylvania Railroad, 1856-1900
  • Became operator for Atlantic & Ohio in Lewistown, PA in 1855
  • Became Pennsylvania Railroad’s first female operator in 1856
  • Moved to Harrisburg during Civil War
  • Retired in 1900 after 44 years service with Pennsylvania RR
  • Born in Lewistown, PA in 1833. Her father owned a book and stationery store and delivered newspapers
  • Educated in “dame schools” and the Lewistown Academy
  • As a child, remembered hearing the news read from the post office steps when the mail stage came in
  • Learned telegraphy from Charles Spottswood, operator at Lewistown; delivered telegrams
  • Became operator when Spottswood left in 1856
  • Became a railroad operator when the Lewistown office was taken over by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1856; taught telegraphy to several Lewistown women
  • Moved to Harrisburg in 1862 and sent important messages during the Civil War
  • Never married; retired from the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1900 after a career of almost 45 years
  • Her Voluntary Relief file index card is at the State Archives, Harrisburg
  • Retired in 1900 with title of “Chief Messenger” and a monthly pension of $26.05
  • Returned to Lewistown, and became active in church and civic affairs
  • Died at age 88 in 1922

Helen M. Plummer
Telegrapher, Greenville, PA 1850

  • The early telegraph companies were continually in need of operators in small towns in Pennsylvania, and continually strapped for cash to pay operators
  • Women could be hired for less money than men
  • Helen M. Plummer became an operator for the Erie & Michigan Telegraph Company in Greenville, PA around 1850 – for a starting salary of $125 a year!

Emma Hunter
Emma Hunter
Operator at West Chester, PA, 1851
  • Became operator for Atlantic & Ohio Telegraph Company in West Chester in 1851
  • Her initial salary was $50 per year
  • First “electronic commuter” – worked out of her parlor in 1851
  • One of many women considered to be the “first female operator”
  • Born in Meadville, PA, in 1831.
  • Her father died when she was young
  • Her mother moved to West Chester and opened a stationery store and lending library
  • Emma learned telegraphy from Uriah H. Painter in West Chester and began to operate in 1851
  • She was considered to be an expert operator – “Emma of S” was her “sine”
  • Her income helped to support her mother and brother
  • Her telegraph office and her mother’s stationery store moved to the Pennsylvania Railroad depot in 1857
  • Managing a telegraph office is a little-studied aspect of business management by women in the 19th century
  • Telegrapher at West Chester during Civil War; sent many war-related messages
  • Left the telegraph office in the late 1860s and worked for the Bank of Chester County
  • Married Thomas T. Smith, tobacco merchant, in 1868; they had two children
  • Died on December 21, 1904, in West Chester

Abbie Struble Vaughan
Abbie Struble Vaughan
B&O Operator, Pittsburgh, 1866
  • Learned to read by sound in Pittsburgh, 1860s
  • Married J. L Vaughan and moved to Texas, 1880s
  • Operated in Mexico for the Mexican National Railroad, 1890s
  • Taught telegraphy in Long Beach, CA, 1917
  • Born in Port Perry, PA in 1845, of Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry. Her father was a steamboat pilot.
  • Learned sound telegraphy in Pittsburgh around 1861, together with her sister Madge.
  • Married J. L. Vaughan, telegraph lineman, in 1866.
  • Worked for B&O Railroad in Pittsburgh, late 1860s – early 1870s. Instructed many other railroad operators
  • Lived in Ohio and Missouri. Had 5 children, all of whom became telegraphers
  • Moved to Merkel, Texas, in 1882 and became operator at the Texas & Pacific Depot. Entire familiy moved into the depot.
  • Moved to Mexico in 1891 to become operator for the Mexican National and Mexican Central Railroads
  • Left Mexico after 1911 Revolution and settled in Long Beach, CA
  • Came out of retirement in 1917 at age 72 to teach telegraphy during World War I
  • Died in Long Beach, CA in 1924

Hettie Ogle
Hettie Ogle
Manager, Johnstown, PA Western Union Office - 1889
  • Hettie Ogle began working for Western Union in 1861
  • Became manager of Johnstown W. U. office and telephone exchange
  • Her daughter Minnie was chief operator
  • Remained at her post during May 31, 1889 flood - drowned
  • Civil War widow; operated at Bedford, PA before coming to Johnstown in 1869
  • Became manager of Johnstown Western Union Office; her daughter Minnie became Chief Operator
  • Opened telephone exchange in the 1880s
  • Remained in her office during flood; both she and her daughter Minnie were killed in the flood
  • Her son Earl survived and became postmaster in Johnstown

For Archives Information: E-WIRE ARCHIVES
For site comments contact: WEBMASTER