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Home on the Rails: Women, the Railroad, and the Rise of Public Domesticityby Amy G. Richter
Synopses & Reviews
"A fine work of cultural history, broadly conceived and imaginatively researched."
— The Pennsylvania Magazine of History & Biography "A groundbreaking contribution to the history of women and the railroad, Richter's meticulous research and lucid prose illuminate the passage from Victorian America to modern times, the nuanced layers of private lives and separate spheres, and the public culture and corporate strategy that show the remaking of the life and landscape of nineteenth-century America--a terrain where the New Woman took her seat on the Twentieth Century Limited and began the journey anew."
— Indiana Magazine of History "[A] major contribution to women's studies as well as transportation and social history. [Richter] has creatively used sources, including the rich archives of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the self-proclaimed 'Standard Railroad of the World.' The concept of public domesticity is historically important and carefully explored in this well-written and expertly illustrated volume."
— Historian A work that is intellectually rich, amply documented and contains enough social history on the conditions of rail cars, behaviors of passengers, and Americans' love of travel to merit it a place alongside more traditional historiography on American railroads.
--Journal of Transport History This is not your parents' railroad history. . . . [Home on the Rails] breathes life into an old, often stale debate about the role of the ideology of separate spheres in the lives of women.
--Technology and Culture A "Historians' Picks" title
--New York Journal of American History A stylish, original and entertaining interpretation of the domestication and commodification of public life on the rails at the end of the nineteenth century. Amy Richter's engaging voice will draw in students, and her arguments about the gendered transformation of public space in Victorian America will spark conversations among scholars at all levels.
--Jane Dailey, Johns Hopkins University Home on the Rails fills a considerable void in the history of trains and travel. Fresh material and a crisp writing style make for a useful and delightful book.
--H. Roger Grant, Clemson University
Richter describes the railroad in nineteenth-century America as a site and symbol of the shifts in the balance of gender, race, and class in American culture.
Recognizing the railroad's importance as both symbol and experience in Victorian America, Amy G. Richter follows women travelers onto trains and considers the consequences of their presence there.
For a time, Richter argues, nineteenth-century Americans imagined the public realm as a chaotic and dangerous but potentially rich space where various groups came together, collided, and influenced one another, for better or worse. The example of the American railroad reveals how, by the beginning of the twentieth century, this image was replaced by one of a domesticated public realm-a public space in which both women and men increasingly strove to make themselves "at home."
Through efforts that ranged from the homey touches of railroad car dŽcor to advertising images celebrating female travelers and legal cases sanctioning gender-segregated spaces, travelers and railroad companies transformed the railroad from a place of risk and almost unlimited social mixing into one in which white men and women alleviated the stress of unpleasant social contact. Making themselves "at home" aboard the trains, white men and women domesticated the railroad for themselves and paved the way for a racially segregated and class-stratified public space that freed women from the home yet still preserved the railroad as a masculine domain.
About the Author
Amy G. Richter is assistant professor of history at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. The dissertation on which this book is based won the 2001 Lerner-Scott Prize from the Organization of American Historians.
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