"Every Thing in its Place" Gender and Space on America's Railroads, 1830-1899
McCall, R. David
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Gender was a critically important component of the rules and practices of railroading in the nineteenth century. While railroad passengers were initially composed of a homogenous group of middle-class men and women, increased use of trains very quickly led to separations by sex and class. Victorian understandings of respectability and gender roles and view of the world as being ordered and hierarchical strongly shaped how railroads treated their passengers. Like home and hotel parlors, railroad passenger cars constituted an intersection of the sacred private realm of the home and the less pure mundane arena of public life. Nineteenth-century middle-class Americans used space to define and maintain societal distinctions of gender and, especially, class. The definition and decoration of space in rail passenger service reinforced Victorian values and restricted and controlled behavior. Diverse gender and status roles distinguished white middle-class men and women from immigrants and members of other races as railroad passengers. Even white middle-class men and women did not have the same experience or expectations of nineteenth-century rail passenger service. Railroads in the nineteenth century were constructed by a mannered and hierarchical society, but they were also part of a capitalist consumer economy. In a conflict between taking care of business and upholding societal standards such as gender ideals, business generally took precedence.
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