Home on the Rails: Women, the Railroad, and the Rise of Public Domesticity

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Home on the Rails: Women, the Railroad, and the Rise of Public Domesticity Amy G. Richter. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

In Home on the Rails: Women, the Railroad, and the Rise of Public Domesticity, Amy G. Richter traces the effects of the emergence of the railroad on American Victorian life. She focuses on the role that women played in the expansion of the railroad and in the development of its ethos. Although women did not help design and build the railroad, by their very presence, they helped craft its culture. Because of the social interaction that occurred in railroad cars, the railroad became a symbol of the "uniquely American love of togetherness" (17). In her study of stories of the railroad, Richter explains that the "belief in the diversity and equality of the traveling public was a vital part of many railroad narratives" (17). However, she shows that this belief clashed with the reality of specialty cars that furthered class elitism and racial segregation.

In this thorough study, Richter uses anecdotes, advertisements, published stories, and many other popular artifacts to illustrate the culture of the railroad in late-nineteenth-century America. She supplements these written artifacts with visual images of the era culled from various scholarly archives. The book is divided into six chapters that trace the transformation of women secluded in a separate sphere into "new women fit for public life" (134).

The ideology of "separate spheres," or "the network of Victorian social and cultural assumptions that associated women with domestic values," clashed with the reality of women on the railroad (32). Therefore, "woman's place expanded to include the railroad" (33). As men and women "moved qualities of private life onto the railroad," they "amended the meaning of both home and public" (60). …