Bagley, Sarah G.
BAGLEY, Sarah G.
Born circa 1820 in Meredith, New Hampshire; death date unknown
Sarah G. Bagley received a common school education and, if her sketch, "Tales of Factory Life, No. 1" is autobiographical, she may have been in domestic service before arriving in Lowell, Massachusetts. She may also have taught school. She worked at the Hamilton Manufacturing Company for over six years and for two years at the Middlesex Factory. For four of the years she worked in the mills, she conducted a free evening class for her fellow workers. She joined an "Improvement Circle" held in a Lowell Universalist church and contributed articles to the Lowell Offering, edited by Harriet Farley. When she became critical of the deteriorating working conditions and low wages in the mills, her articles were rejected. In a speech before 2,000 workingmen at an 1845 Independence Day rally in Woburn, Massachusetts, Bagley attacked the Offering, and later called Farley a "mouth-piece of the corporations." The popularity of the Offering declined after these attacks, and it ceased publication late in 1845.
Bagley helped to found and became the first president of the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association, and when the Voice of Industry, a labor weekly, moved to Lowell in October 1845, she became one of its three-person publishing committee. While editing the Voice of Industry and contributing to its pages, Bagley also "organized branches of the Female Labor Reform Association in other mill towns." She gathered more than 2,000 signatures on petitions to the Massachusetts legislature that described the adverse effects of mill conditions on the health and minds of the workers and called for laws limiting the working day to 10 hours. The petition of the mill workers was rejected.
In 1847 Bagley became the Lowell agent for The Covenant, a Baltimore monthly devoted to "Odd Fellowship and General Literature." Bagley's writings fall into two distinct groups: her early, genteel contributions to the Lowell Offering and her later militant articles in the Voice of Industry. She wrote "Pleasures of Factory Life" for the Offering (Dec. 1840), describing the joys of conversation, contemplation, plants, the power to assist one's family, opportunities to meet new people from different parts of the country. Two short tales also written for the Offering, "Tales of Factory Life, No. 1" (1841) and "Tales of Factory Life, No. 2: The Orphan Sisters" (1841), present the stories of "Sarah T." and "Catherine Bagley," who are able to improve themselves and assist their needy families by working in the mills. The first story makes it plain the factory girl's lot is far superior to that of the hired girl. In her reported speeches and writings as a labor organizer and editor, Bagley claimed the authority of 10 years' experience in the mills, and the reported success of her speeches probably depended in part on their ring of sincerity and conviction.
Selections of Bagley's work can be found in: History of the Labor Movement in the United States (P.S. Foner, ed., 1947). The Lowell Offering: Writings by New England Mill Women (ed. B. Eisler, 1977).
Eisler, B., ed., The Lowell Offering: Writings by New England Mill Women (1977). Foner, P. S., The Factory Girls (1977). Foner, P. S., History of the Labor Movement in the United States (1947). Josephson, H., The Golden Threads: New England's Mill Girls and Magnates (1949). Lunardini, C. A., Women's Rights (1996). Selden, B., The Mill Girls: Lucy Larcom, Harriet Hanson Robinson, Sarah G. Bagley (1983). Stern, M. B., We, the Women: Career Firsts of Nineteenth Century America (1963).
NAW, 1607-1950 (1971).
—SUSAN SUTTON SMITH