Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

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October 12, 2013

NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Lockport telegrapher excelled at 'mens' work

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — In an era when women rarely worked outside the home, or only in professions considered to be “feminine,” Mary J. Macaulay proved that some ladies could hold men’s positions and do an exceptional job in the process.

Mary was born in LeRoy, N.Y., on Jan. 27, 1865. When she finished her formal schooling at age 14, she went to work as a telegrapher first for the New York Central Railroad and then for Western Union, moving from LeRoy to Lyons to Syracuse. In 1883, she joined the Brotherhood of Telegraphers and became treasurer of the local Syracuse union. When the Brotherhood struck against Western Union in 1883, Mary joined the picket line. She lost her job with Western Union but was soon hired by the United Press Association (UPA) as a telegrapher at a newspaper in Amsterdam, N.Y. 

After holding telegrapher positions in Rochester — where she also worked as Susan B. Anthony’s personal secretary —Utica, Auburn and Buffalo, in 1902, she returned to UPA and went to work at the Union-Sun in Lockport. 

The City of Lockport had a long history of using telegraphs to send messages. In 1845, only one year after Samuel Morse perfected his code, Lockport and Buffalo were connected by telegraph lines running along Transit Road to Williamsville and then down Main Street to Buffalo. This was the second telegraph line established in the United States (the first being Washington, D.C. to Baltimore). The Lockport telegraph office was on Canal Street.

During her tenure in Lockport, from 1902 to 1927, Mary lived at three different addresses in the city: 175 Chestnut, 66 Pine and 147 Washburn. She was a devout Catholic and would have worshipped at St. John’s or St. Patrick’s. 

While working in Lockport, Mary sent and/or received 15,000 words a day. In 1910, she and other women telegraphers were praised by Walter R. Phillips, general manager of the United Press Association.

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