The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 104, July 2000 - April, 2001

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

In the latter chapters the author defends the political domination of Fort
Worth by a handful of rich, white, male business executives, led by Fuqua from
the 1950s through the 1970s. They excelled in "selecting the right people to
run for office" (p. 203), i.e., their own kind. Fuqua also resisted any takeover of
TP, but the company was finally absorbed by Seagram's in 1963, after seventy-
five years as a separate company. The book is useful if one wants a century-old
corporate view of industrial workers and a more recent corporate view of one
company's history and Fort Worth politics.
University of Texas at Arlzngton George N. Green
Ma Kiley: The Lzfe of a Railroad Telegrapher. By Thomas C. Jepsen (Texas Western
Press, 1997. Pp. v+138. Introduction, conclusion, glossary of terms, end-
notes, bibliography. ISBN 0-87404-275-5. $12.50, paper.)
Thomas Jepsen's Ma Kiley not only gives the reader a glimpse into the colorful
life of a female railroad telegrapher in the first half of the twentieth century but
also portrays the day-to-day functions of an occupation with its own unique cul-
ture. Mattie Kuhn, known to colleagues as Ma Kiley after a marriage in 1908,
wrote the autobiographical "The Bug and I" for a 1950 issue of Railroad Maga-
zine. Jepsen located it quite by accident, his attention caught by the use of the
term "bug" (p. 2), telegraphers' slang term for an automatic telegraph key.
Although Mattie Kuhn was born in Texas and worked in the state off and on as
an operator, she spent almost ten years as a railroad 'boomer,' moving across
the western part of the United States and Canada in search of work and some
stability. Thus, her story has a significance not only in filling in a piece of Texas
history but also in contributing to our understanding of railroad telegraphy in
general and women's experiences in that line of work.
Born in 188o near Pleasanton, Texas, Kuhn married for the first time at six-
teen, gave birth to a son soon thereafter, and divorced three years later. Moving
to Del Rio where her mother and stepfather operated a hotel, Kuhn learned
telegraphy from one of the boarders. She found her first railroad telegraphy job
in Sabinas, Mexico, where she worked for three years, marrying and divorcing
again. Back in Del Rio, she gave birth to a second son and for the next two years
traveled across Texas seeking work. After the death of her second child, Kuhn
married and divorced two more times and was widowed after her last marriage
in 1931. She retired from railroad telegraphy in 1942, having worked for the
Southern Pacific Railroad for twenty-eight years. She died in 1971 at the age of
ninety-one.
As colorful as her life was, Kuhn's autobiography is much more than a lively
account of personal struggle. As a railroad telegrapher, she witnessed the meld-
ing of railroad and telegraph technology in the mid-nineteenth century when
the telegraph was first utilized for signaling to prevent train collisions on single-
track systems. It was an occupation with its own language. Telegraphers
employed a special shorthand language virtually unintelligible to those outside
the occupation in an often highly individualized sending style. They experi-

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 104, July 2000 - April, 2001. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101221/. Accessed May 6, 2015.