Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hudson & Manhattan Railroad women-only cars

Stairway from the Hudson Terminal Concourse to the platforms
Hudson & Manhattan Railroad women-only cars

Location: Between Newark, New Jersey and New York, New York, USA

Opened/Closed: Women-only cars reintroduced for commuter train service on July 7, 1958. Service was limited to one car on each train on the downtown line during rush hour. However, with no real explanation, the service was "withdrawn after a short while."

We've posted here before on New York City's "suffragette" railcars of 1909, and how these turned out to be a pioneering effort in establishing women-only public transportation around the world. Just to jog your memory, here's a little refresher course:

About one year after the Tubes [i.e. the Hudson Tubes of the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad] started its first service, the Woman's Municipal League, noting that women and children were being squeezed, jostled and potentially endangered in the rush hour crowds on the trains, asked the H&M for a "women's car" service during the rush hours for a two weeks' trial period. There would be one car on each rush hour train reserved for women and children. Since the North River ferries already had "women's cabins", this was not a particularly unusual request. [William G.] McAdoo, the H&M's President, responded with a three months' trial starting March 31, 1909.

At first the service was very popular with women and the cars were well patronized. But then newspapers began a campaign of ridiculing the cars and their users, referring to the "Jane Crowe Car", "Hen Car", "Old Maid's Retreat" and ridership dropped off precipitously. When the three month trial period was up, the cars were returned to mixed service.

Meanwhile, on April 24, 1909, while the experiment was still underway, a Francis Dundon lodged a complaint with the ICC against the H&M, alleging that the exclusion of men from the cars was illegal under the provisions of the Interstate Commerce Acts. The H&M responded to the ICC stating that "we do not exclude men from this car. We simply advise them that this car is reserved for women." The H&M's position was that the women's car was analogous to a smoking car. The ICC agreed with the H&M that making a request to men not to use the car was not the same as insisting that men not use the car. In any case the point was moot since the newspaper ridicule had doomed the women's cars.

Which just goes to show that men's obsessive efforts to kill off womyn's space, whether through public ridicule or legal avenues, are nothing new....

What is even less well known is that there was a short-lived effort to revive women-only service in the late 1950s, which was once again praised by women passengers. Also notice that even in the late 1950s, sharp-eyed women were observing how men "hog space" in public areas--and how these women weren't afraid to call them out on it either:


That's how one feminine commuter described the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad's new car for women only.

The baby blue, perfume-scented car was placed in service for the first time Thursday [i.e. June 7, 1958] on the morning rush-hour run between here [i.e. Newark, New Jersey] to New York City.

Mrs. Vera Veseley of Fords, said the car was marvelous because she had more elbow room.

"Men always spread out their newspapers and hog space," she said. "Only yesterday I had to tell a man to fold up his paper."

But the roominess in the air-conditioned car didn't last for long.  All 44 seats were soon taken and standees jammed the aisle.

Mrs. Veseley had only one mild criticism: "You could probably save time by applying make-up in the ladies car instead of at home, but there are no mirrors. As long as the railroad spent all this money, I don't see why it didn't install wall-to-wall mirrors."

Mrs. Corinne Rose of Edison patted the blue leather seats and commented: "These will save my stockings. Those cane seats in the old cars always gave me runners."

Santa Fe ad (1954). The preferred image for women on trains?
One woman offered a dissenting opinion.

"I enjoy riding with men more," she said.

Well it appears that somebody got the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) involved once more, as two years later, in July 1960, we see the following headline in the Hartford Courant: "Shocking-Pink Ladies 'Club Car' Is Okayed As a No Man's Land." The explanation: "Ladies rode the rails of the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad in their own shocking-pink pastel cars Friday with the informal blessing of the Interstate Commerce Commission."  

What happened to the baby-blue cars? Or these later "shocking-pink" cars? Seems there is a lot more lost herstory to explore here....

Lest you think that all this is in the quaint and distant past, consider the following: Czech Railways just instituted "female priority" compartments on their trains.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating. I've never heard about this, and I read a lot of history!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.