The Romance of Independence: Working Women in Nineteenth-Century Telegraph Literature

Christina Henderson Harner, Augusta University
Vol. 41, No. 1 (Spring 2022), 65-90

This article examines the ways in which telegraph fiction by women authors imagined heroines whose jobs allowed them to subvert gender norms and take control of their lives. This fiction simultaneously challenged the assumptions of male writers about women telegraph operators and rewrote the genre conventions of sentimental fiction. Writers such as Lida A. Churchill and Ella Cheever Thayer represented the telegraph office as a site of professional and personal development in which disembodied communica­tion over the telegraph uniquely transcended divisions of gender, space, and social sphere. This essay will discuss three areas in which telegraph work benefited women: financial independence, greater romantic freedom, and increased peer community support. It argues that this long-overlooked microgenre of fiction is significant from both a literary and histori­cal perspective.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]