MACLURE, SARA ANNE (McLagan), telegrapher, homemaker, newspaper publisher, journalist, and social reformer; b. c. 1856 in Belfast (Northern Ireland), daughter of John Cunningham Maclure and Martha McIntyre; m. 11 Dec. 1884 John Campbell McLagan, a widower, in Victoria, and they had three daughters and one son; d. 20 March 1924 in Vancouver.
Sara Maclure was not quite three when she arrived in British Columbia in April 1859 with her infant sister, Susan Elizabeth, and her mother, Martha. The trio had sailed from Belfast to be reunited with the children’s father, sent to the colony the previous year as a surveyor with the Royal Engineers. On completion of his service, he signed on as a surveyor for the Collins Overland Telegraph Company, which was to build a line through British Columbia to Siberia in order to connect North America with Europe. When this enterprise was abandoned in 1866 after the Atlantic cable was laid [see Frederic Newton Gisborne*], he took up a land grant on the Matsqui prairie in the Fraser valley. Hoping to improve his growing family’s financial prospects, he chose a site at the junction of two Western Union Telegraph Company lines and established a repeater station in the family parlour. Sara proved an apt pupil and quickly became an accomplished telegrapher. At 15 she was placed on the company’s payroll as regular operator of the Matsqui office, responsible for sending and receiving messages, including all the press dispatches from the United States. The following year she noted in her diary that she had been appointed “tester and manager of repairs from New Westminster to Yale,” sending out men to maintain the lines. In 1875, as a first-class Morse operator, she was promoted to the Victoria office. For several years before her resignation in October 1884, she was office manager, an atypical post for a woman.
Sara’s resignation reflected the common practice of the period that women relinquish a salaried position on their marriage. Her husband, John Campbell McLagan, was a printer who had assisted in establishing the Victoria Daily Times earlier the same year. In 1888 McLagan began the Vancouver Daily World with capital borrowed by his wife from prominent industrialist James Dunsmuir*. The couple moved to Vancouver. How much Sara was involved with the running of the paper during her husband’s lifetime is not clear. She was no doubt influential in persuading him to retain her brother Samuel to design new premises for the business in 1892. She occasionally “sat on the wire” for the paper, especially on important occasions such as elections. Her level of commitment changed with her husband’s illness and his death in April 1901. Sara McLagan assumed control, functioning as publisher, managing editor, editorial writer, and sometime reporter. The introduction of a woman’s page as a regular feature coincided with her assumption of ownership. These Saturday pages provided lively and well written commentaries on health, childcare, nutrition, women’s clubs, local politics, and other matters. Her determination to oversee directly the continued success of the largest daily paper west of Winnipeg sometimes provoked opposition from staff who resented her interference. At one point, she became involved in a court battle with the local of the International Typographical Union to affirm her right as publisher to proof-read the paper. Despite this turmoil, the paper flourished under her direction and she sold it to a group headed by Vancouver businessman Louis Denison Taylor* for $65,000 in 1905. She continued from time to time to write copy and she edited, by invitation, special women’s issues of Vancouver papers. She maintained her membership in the Canadian Women’s Press Club, which she had helped to found with other women journalists covering the Louisiana Purchase exposition in 1904, and was a founding member of the British Columbia Institute of Journalists.
Like many middle-class women of her era, Sara participated in organizations designed to improve the quality of life. The centrepiece of her work was the Local Council of Women of Vancouver. A founding member in 1894, she served as treasurer (1895–97) and president (1898–1900). During her presidency she initiated the formation of a branch in New Westminster to help families in the city whose lives had been devastated by fire in 1898. As provincial vice-president of the National Council of Women of Canada from 1903 to 1907, she advocated greater rights and better conditions for British Columbia’s women and children, including women’s suffrage. Her desire to improve women’s opportunities in the workplace led her to serve in the professions and careers department of the National Council.
While president of the local council, Sara had worked with Lady Aberdeen [Marjoribanks*] in support of the Victorian Order of Nurses. During her tenure, the council established a training home for nurses in the city and formed a chapter of the VON. She served as the chapter’s secretary from 1898 to 1901 and as president from 1902 to 1906. She was also a charter member of the Vancouver General Hospital Women’s Auxiliary in 1902 and she urged the construction of a hospital for aged and infirm women.
Some of Sara’s volunteer work reflected other interests. In recognition of her efforts in 1894 to found the city’s first cultural society, the Art, Historical and Scientific Association of Vancouver, and her service as its president in 1903, she was made an honorary life member. She had served on the committees that initiated the Vancouver branches of the Young Men’s Christian Association in 1886 and the Young Women’s Christian Association in 1897–98 and was a founding member of a club, the Athenaeum, and the Vancouver chapter of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire. In 1911, soon after its establishment, she joined the Georgian Club, a Vancouver women’s organization.
Although Sara spent much of her life in the public eye, the private sphere also compelled her attention, as the mother of four children and stepmother to her husband’s son from his first marriage. In 1908 she had returned to her parental home, Hazelbrae, in the Fraser valley to assist her recently widowed mother, oversee the management of the family farm, and support her brother John Charles in his brickworks at Clayburn. His initial missteps substantially depleted her finances. Never one to accept setbacks passively, she took advantage of wartime shortages of manpower and returned to telegraphy in 1916 while living for a short time with a daughter in California. The war exacted a heavy toll on her, with the death overseas of her only son, Patrick Douglas Maclure, in 1917 and a son-in-law on Armistice Day. Following World War I she arranged through a journalist friend, Julia Wilmotte Henshaw [Henderson*], to be appointed to the British Red Cross to assist the wounded and sick in France. Afterwards, she returned to Vancouver, where she remained until her death in 1924.
A pioneering “can do” spirit infused many of Sara McLagan’s deeds. Despite the rhetoric of the period concerning separate spheres, she tackled tasks customarily assumed by men and succeeded. Within the sphere to which society would normally have restricted her, she fulfilled her roles as daughter, wife, mother, and maternal feminist. Generations of Vancouverites benefited from her many community endeavours.
BCA, GR-2951, no.1924-09-332253 (mfm.); GR-2962, no.1884-09-002716 (mfm.). City of Vancouver Arch., Add. mss 54 (J. S. Matthews coll.), topical files, McLagan, J. C. [and] McLagan, Mrs J. C. (02939); Add. mss 396 (Canadian Women’s Press Club fonds). LAC, MG 28, I 232, 1. New Westminster Museum Arch. (New Westminster, B.C.), Sara Anne Maclure fonds. Univ. of B.C. Library, Rare Books and Special Coll. (Vancouver), Vancouver Council of Women records, box 3, files 1, 3; Vancouver Young Women’s Christian Assoc. fonds. Vancouver Daily Province, 21 March 1924. Vancouver Daily World, 1888–1905. Vancouver Evening Sun, 21 March 1924. J. D. Adams, “Clayburn: a study of its brick industry, its architecture, and its preservation” (m.museol thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1976). Art, Hist. and Scientific Assoc. of Vancouver, Museum Notes, 1 (June 1926), no.2: 9. Marjory Lang and Linda Hale, “Women of The World and other dailies: the lives and times of Vancouver newspaperwomen in the first quarter of the twentieth century,” BC Studies (Vancouver), no.85 (spring 1990): 3–23. D. A. McGregor, “Adventures of Vancouver newspapers: 1892–1926,” British Columbia Hist. Quarterly (Victoria), 10 (1946): 89–142. National Council of Women of Canada, Women of Canada: their life and work; compiled . . . for distribution at the Paris international exhibition, 1900 ([Montreal?, 1900]; repr. [Ottawa], 1975). E. O. S. Scholefield and F. W. Howay, British Columbia from the earliest times to the present (4v., Vancouver, 1914), 4: 1191. Who’s who in western Canada . . . (Vancouver), 1912.