Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Women's History Month: She Was Working on the Railroad


Women railroad hostlers, Eng. Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/ggbain.25847/

World War I era women had to step in to the jobs men left to join the military. While some of the work they did were jobs we would expect to see women engaged in, some of what they did was non-traditional which gave women the never before opportunity to work for higher wages.

According to Maurine Weiner Greenwald in Women, War, and Work : The Impact of World War I on Women Workers in the United States:

Had women been asked during the First World War which industry offered the most favorable wages and working conditions, they surely would have chosen railroad work....All wage earners were granted an eight-hour day, decent wages, a well-designed grievance procedure, and a seniority system for regulating promotions and layoffs...The war emergency provided the stimulus for a national policy of equal pay for equal work under which women could gain entrance into unconventional employment, enjoy occupational advancement within the ranks of railroad labor, and gain trade protection as well. These benefits attracted tens of thousands of women to the industry.{87}

Greenwald goes on to provide statistics gathered by the Railroad Administration. The data from January 1918 and October 1920 showed that women's employment increased 47.2% from 61,162 to 90,052 women railroad workers.{93} Obviously, women held railroad office jobs during this time period but they also did non-traditional jobs like welding.


  • Did your female ancestor live close to a railroad depot or hub?
  • Do you own home sources that suggest she worked for a railroad?
  • Did she apply for Social Security in the 1930s? Do you have her application?



Additional Resources:
I posted previously about researching railroad ancestors, including women. You can find more links here.

Interail Incorporated - Rail Life Blog - Women’s History Month – Women and the Railroad Industry

JSTOR - Women Workers and World War I: The American Railroad Industry, a Case Study

"One Family's Railroad Story" and "Family Lines" in Trains magazine. April 2017 (Although this is focused on men who worked for the railroad, there's some great information).

* 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.

1 comment:

Beth Gatlin said...

My ancestor's brother's wife worked as a ticket agent for the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway.