April 20th, 2011
While women were preferred by customers hearing that important question “Number please?” – the working conditions and wage for these women in the emerging communication business was far from preferential. With rules and standards more rigid than those for their sisters at the loom in the 1830s, the New England telephone operators began to organize. While feeling more “professional” – they chaffed at the tight quarters, the perfect posture, the behavioral restrictions, split-shifts and worst of all – a lesser wage than men. Under the leadership of union organizer, Julia Sarsfield O’Connor – union membership was growing beyond Boston in other Massachusetts cities, including Lynn, Springfield, Worcester, New Bedford, Framingham, Fitchburg, Salem and in the Merrimack Valley communities of Lowell, Lawrence, and Haverhill. The area was a hotbed of union activity – so it was not surprising that in frustration over failed negotiations in Boston and elsewhere – telephone switchboard operators walked off the job. While the strike was successful the operators soon fell victim to the self-dial telephone and automation.
…in 1919, striking telephone operators in Massachusetts won the right to negotiate with the New England Telephone Company. The young, single women who had flooded into the industry in the early 1900s wanted higher wages and better working conditions. When they took off their headsets and walked off the job, they brought business in New England to a standstill. Government officials and industry executives were surprised by the women’s organization and determination. In less than a week, the phone company agreed to the strikers’ demands. The victorious operators returned to work, but within a few years, they would face a greater threat: the self-dial telephone. Manually-operated switchboards would soon be more common in museums than city telephone offices.
Read the the full article here
Many women in my family were part of this force of women in the New England Telephone & Telegraph system as operators and some on the business-side. Two of the great-aunts rose in the ranks – one to Chief Operator in Lowell and the other as a supervisor and trainer. These ladies – Miss Jane F. (Jennie) Kirwin (1886-1968) and Miss Vera E. Deignan (1903-1996) were considered businesswomen in their day – proper ladies with poise, polish and presence.
April 20th, 2011
Yesterday I returned from a long weekend in Baltimore for that city’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Pratt Street Riot, the April 19, 1861 confrontation that cost the lives of Luther Ladd, Addison Whitney, Sumner Needham and Charles Taylor. The centerpiece of the Baltimore celebration was a parade of Civil War reenactors that traced the route followed by the soldiers from Lowell 150 years ago (more on the parade in a future post). I also attended a rededication of the President Street Station (shown above) which featured the mayor of Baltimore and other dignitaries. A handout at that event shared the following about the President Street Station:
Built in 1850, President Street Station in Baltimore, Maryland, is a former train station. It is the oldest surviving big city railroad terminal in the United States. Built by the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad (PW&B), the station was an important rail transportation link during the Civil War. Opened on February 18, 1850, the station was the Baltimore terminus for the PW&B. In addition to the brick head house, the original station also had a long barrel-vaulted train shed over the tracks. A track ran along Pratt Street to connect PW&B trains arriving from Philadelphia with Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) trains at Camden Station t Washington, D.C. The station was involved in the Baltimore riot of 1861, when Massachusetts troops bound for Washington, D.C., were marching to the B&O’s Camden Station 10 blocks west and were attacked by an angry mob of Southern sympathizers. Several people were killed during the melee. President Street Station was replaced in 1873 by Pennsylvania Station, but continued to have some passenger train usage until 1911. It was later used as a freight station and then as a warehouse. The train shed was destroyed by fire, and by 1970, only the present head house was left.
The destination of the Massachusetts troops in Baltimore on April 19 was the Camden Station (shown below) which has a familiar name today because of its neighbor, Camden Yards ballpark, the home of the Baltimore Orioles. Camden Station is now the Baltimore sports museum although it did have a Civil War exhibit this week. There is a Camden train station but it’s only a platform with automated ticket machines.
April 20th, 2011
Monday being the stand-in observance for Patriots Day (April 19), and since the day was sunny even if windy, my wife and I took a walk through the Back Central neighborhood. We were pulled along for the first half by our enthusiastic Boston Terrier who could not have more enjoyed the field trip, especially when we met other interested dogs safely behind their yard fences.
Patriots Day is one of those state holidays that is more or less observed, depending on your employer. We were fortunate to have the day off. The neighborhood was fairly quiet since most of the people who live there seemed to be at work or maybe were sleeping late. School was out in Lowell, so some kids were out and about, one group fascinated by a lime-green mini-motorcycle that a boy about 12 years old showed off near Hosford Square.
The spring landscape is changing fast. One hot day, and the pink blossoms on trees pop where they were not the day before. We’re still in pre-season of the Garden League in what I like to call The Garden District. It looked like Old Timers’ Day on Monday as we hiked up and down the narrow hilly streets. The ancient and honorable sentinels had begun the long steady work of cultivating for another year. We saw at least one senior gardener on each street we walked, a man here, a woman there, all of them 70 or better, tending to a patch of yard, a string of pots waiting for seedlings, a vine that needed pruning, a flower box to be cleared of brown leaves. They were brooming out winter’s cobwebs and checking to see what damage the deep-freeze months had left.
Already, the earth around the houses was yielding color. Not only were the side and back yards green, but more often than a visitor would expect the narrow sun-favored frontages along sidewalks boasted clusters of cheerful yellow daffodils or red tulips. At a fresh-looking condo complex near Newhall Street, young guys from the grounds crew or an outside landscaping company spruced up the parking lot and distributed mulch.
If there was a minuteman-type statue in Back Central, it would have to be something like the iconic painting “American Gothic” but revised a little so that the pairing would be a life-sized, strong-looking older couple who could be of Portuguese lineage standing with a rake and a watering can.