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About the Book

Beyond the Book

296 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 20 illus., notes, bibl., index

Gender and American Culture

ISBN  978-0-8078-5591-1
Published: March 2005

Home on the Rails

Women, the Railroad, and the Rise of Public Domesticity

By Amy G. Richter

Awards & Distinctions

A "Historians' Picks" title--New York Journal of American History

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 place full of potential, 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 décor 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.


"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 fine work of cultural history, broadly conceived and imaginatively researched."
--The Pennsylvania Magazine of History & Biography

"This is a book about far more than what Americans thought about women riding trains: it is an ambitious consideration of how Americans came to grips with the social, geographic, and economic changes of the second half of the nineteenth century. . . . 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

“[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.”

"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

"Contributes to a growing historiography on the public and political implications of seemingly 'private' domesticity. . . . Engaging and innovative. . . . Offers a sophisticated and nuanced analysis of transitions in American society during the nineteenth century. It will hold great interest to general and scholarly audiences."
--Journal of Illinois History

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