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Centuries of American history have seen gender wielded as a weapon to limit women’s opportunities within the workplace. Despite this, during wartime and periods of economic upheaval, women slowly transitioned into positions of authority, knowledge, and skill in all areas of the workforce – including at American railroads. In fact, women have served in critical railroad roles since the early 19th century, working to build America right alongside men.
When the railroad allowed the American public to move westward, it not only opened up possibilities for men seeking their fortunes, but also for women seeking opportunities outside of the home. In the late 1830s and 40s, telegraph lines expanded alongside new railroad tracks and
created new professional opportunities for women, despite continuing social norms discouraging women working outside of the home and interacting with the public. Early pioneer women telegraphers were still the exception rather than the rule, but they blazed a trail for women to follow in the century of progress to come.