Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Suffragette Cars" (Women-only cars on the New York City Subway)

1909 "Suffragette Car"
"Suffragette Cars" (Women-only cars on the New York City Subway)

Location: New York, New York, USA

Founded: March 1909

Closed: Around August 1909

Another amazing find at Ephermal New York:

They were called “suffragette cars” when they were introduced in March 1909 on trains of the Hudson Tubes, which took passengers from Manhattan to Hoboken (today’s PATH).

And test runs of these single-sex subway cars—the last car in each train reserved for women only during rush hours—were also deemed a success. So much of a success, IRT officials considered the idea for the then–five year old New York City subway.

One women’s group, the Women’s Municipal League, supported the idea, while a host of others opposed it, stating that it was impractical and unnecessary.

After months of debate, the idea was abandoned. Officials decided that the Hudson Tube women-only cars weren’t that successful after all, and that women didn’t want them anyway.

Said one official in an August 1909 New York Times article:

“Almost an equal number of people (to the advocates of women’s cars) stated that men are the best protection that women have in a crowded car, and that they prefer to ride in cars where men and women are together, that while there are rare occasions when some brute will take advantage of the situation to insult a lady, on the other hand the gentlemen are the best protection the ladies want against such conduct.”

And subway pervs all over the city continued rubbing up against chicks in crowded cars. . . .

Tokyo Flower Train
According to Alisa Freeman, the New York City experiment with women-only coaches may have inspired a similar model in Tokyo in 1912:

A train with women-only accommodation was put on in the United States in 1909 and may have been the model for the one in Japan. On its first day, a total of 131 women used the Tokyo Flower Train. The Flower Train was in service until the Second World War. A movement to reinstate it was successful in 1947, and Chuo line trains included a passenger car for women only until 1973.

Meanwhile, the notion of women-only public transportation (buses, subway cars) has enjoyed a tremendous resurgence in the last decade or so--all in cities outside the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Europe. There are currently 15 countries that have women-only buses and/or subway cars, including Japan (beginning again in 2000 on a "trial basis"), Egypt, India, Malyasia, Taiwan, Mexico, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Guatemala, and Dubai.

But like all womyn-only spaces, a lot of men find women-only train cars a personal threat and women continue to be harrassed. As a result, keeping these cars women-only is a constant struggle.

Here are some examples from women in Egypt, who were members of the "Campaign for Women-only Means of Transport" group:  

"There are men who even dare to ride the women-only carriage," writes one of the members.

"If you tell them that this car is for females, some leave quietly at the next station, while others don’t do anything. It’s like talking to a brick wall."

Another complains of beggars on the Underground, who hang around the women-only carriages, hoping for some compassion.

"One day, a blind man entered the [women-only] carriage [I was in]. He moved along the carriage touching us. We realised that he wasn’t blind at all. When the police came, he ran away," says another female member.

However, it is also interesting that women have taken an active role in policing the women-only cars themselves. Here's an example from India:

Women-only train in India
The Times of India said on Saturday police led a crackdown at a station in Gurgaon, a booming satellite development on the outskirts of Delhi, after a series of complaints – and women passengers joined in the action.

“Not only were the unruly commuters made to shell out a fine of 250 rupees ($A5.50), angry women slapped some of them and forced them to do sit-ups,” the Times reported.

Gurgaon police commissioner S Deswal, who led the raid, told the newspaper: “We found many male passengers in the women’s coach. The moment the women saw us, they got the courage to teach the men a lesson.”

“We want our young girls and women to feel confident and safe while travelling in the metro,” he said.

The Mail Today reported how some of the men in the women’s carriage “had to bear the ignominy of doing sit-ups in public” when they were caught on at the Guru Dronacharya station on Thursday evening.

Photos: 1909 "suffragette car," sign for Flower Line, woman-only train in India.

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