Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Sarah Spraggon, 1871-1926
By Emily Noyes and Olivia Morris, undergraduate students, Northwest Missouri State University. Edited by Dr. Elyssa Ford, Northwest Missouri State University
Sarah (Sadie) Bird was born in Manchester, England on November 9, 1871. When Sarah was very young, the Bird family moved from England to St. Louis, Missouri. At the age of 14, Sarah married 26-year-old Alfred J. Spraggon on December 17, 1885 in St. Louis, Missouri. Together, Alfred and Sarah had one child: Hazel Maurie Spraggon.
As a young woman, Sarah began working in a shoe factory in St. Louis. During her time in this factory, she became a member of the Boot and Shoe Workers' Union and attended many conventions on their behalf, where she spoke to the struggles of organizing shoe workers and strongly advocated for the purchasing of goods with union labels only. Sarah was also an advocate of improving the conditions of working women and children. She served as the treasurer, and later the president, of the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL) of St. Louis. She pushed for women's education, women's wages and working conditions, voting independence, the right to organize, boycotting of nonunion made goods, and women's suffrage. As president of the WTUL in St. Louis, she worked with leaders of suffrage groups to promote women gaining the vote. In 1912, she participated in the first suffrage parade in St. Louis, and in 1914, she stood on stage with twenty-six other female suffrage leaders to support Dr. Anna Howard Shaw on a St. Louis visit.
In 1910, Sarah was the only woman among a group of men personally chosen by Missouri Governor Hadley to serve on the State Employer's Liability Commission. The work of this commission was to prepare a bill to investigate questions addressing employer's liability and workmen's compensation laws that had been raised during the 19th annual convention of the Missouri State Federation of Labor, where Sarah served on the convention committee for boycotts and labels. After the commission, Sarah continued her work with the Missouri State Federation of Labor, eventually holding the title of Second Vice President.
During the spring of 1918, Sarah and five other women journeyed to Europe on a two-month American labor mission intended to build resolve and increase understanding between European and American war workers. The delegates had the opportunity to meet with notable leaders including the king and queen of England and the president of France.
Sarah Spraggon died in St. Louis on June 9, 1926. She was an active leader in the labor movement in St. Louis, Missouri, and dedicated her life to creating better working conditions and getting equal wages for women working in factories. Through the executive positions she held within several St. Louis labor union leagues, she was able to organize workers to spark change within her community and throughout the state of Missouri.
St. Louis Star and Times (St. Louis) January 26, 1913, p.19. Sarah Spraggon is in center.
The Sarah Spraggon Papers are available at the Missouri History Museum Archives in St. Louis, Missouri. The following studies include information about Spraggon's union work: The Journal of the International Brotherhood of Boiler Makers, Iron Ship Builders, and Helpers of America. (Harvard University: The Brotherhood, 1910), pp. 542-45; Missouri Bureau of Labor Statistics. Annual Report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the State of Missouri, Volume 32 (Princeton University: The Bureau, 1911): pp. 376-406; Life and Labor: A Monthly Magazine, Volume 11 (University of Chicago: National Women's Trade Union League, 1921): p. 259.