Thursday, March 16, 2017

Women's History Month 2017: Women Streetcar Conductors

New York Tribune, June 23, 1918, Page 6. Chronicling America

Just like the railroad during World War I, other transportation companies provided women new opportunities that allowed them to make more money than they could earn doing traditional "women's work." In the newspaper article cited above it lists the pay of women conductors as being the same as male conductors in New York, $18.90/week.

Author Maurine Weiner Greenwald provides a few insights about women streetcar conductors in her book Women, War, and Work: the Impact of World War I on Women Workers in the United States*:

  • From late 1917 through the fall of 1919, women conducted trolleys in Brooklyn, New York City, St. Louis, Camden and Elizabeth, Newark, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Duluth, Cleveland, Detroit, and Kansas City. {146}

  • By 1930, the United States Census officially recorded 35,680 men employed as streetcar conductors, but only seventeen women. {184} 
While during World War I thousands of women were conductors, once the war was over, these women were encouraged to go back to their homes allowing men to reclaim their jobs. It's also important to remember that privately owned cars would have been a popular alternative to public transportation and so the need for streetcars also decreased.

As you can imagine these women were not welcome with open arms by the male conductors and their story has been told in various books about women's employment. Women would go on to work in public transportation during World War II and beyond in places that still used streetcars. One of the more famous female conductors was writer Maya Angelou (you can read her story here). 

  • Do you have photos of your female ancestor in a uniform or posed by a streetcar?
  • Have you searched the history of streetcars, trolleys and bus service in the place she lived?
  • Did she later apply for Social Security? Do you have a copy of her application?

Additional Resources:

ArchiveGrid (search for the name of the company she worked for or the city she lived in)

WorldCat (search for books on women working during World War I)

Chronicling America

May 11, 1918: Women Hired as Streetcar Conductors (Duluth)

How A 1919 New York Law Enacted To Help Women, Ended Up Costing Them Their Jobs

*Greenwald, Maurine W. Women, War, and Work: The Impact of World War I on Women Workers in the United States. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990.

No comments: