Walking to Work: Tramps in America, 1790-1935

By Eric H. Monkkonen | Go to book overview
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Lynn Weiner


Sisters of the Road: Women Transients and Tramps

In 1903, the problem of the woman tramp in the United States was brought up at the National Conference of Charities and Correction. "In speaking of tramps, I noticed that they left out the tramp woman and girl altogether," complained Mrs. O. L. Amigh, of Geneva, Illinois. "From my childhood up, I have seen tramp women and girls, and they are the greatest menace to the community of any class of people who tramp. They may not be quite as numerous as men and boys, but it does not take so many of them to do a great deal of harm." 1

By the turn of the century, the line between the male transient worker and the female tramp was very thin, and of the two the female tramp posed a far greater threat to social order. Until the Depression of the 1930s, welfare agencies could not easily reach her, while her style of life placed her far beyond the limits of acceptable behavior. Especially before the 1930s, the female tramps who chose to defy sex role conventions symbolized a criticism of cultural mores as great as any other presented by women of that time.

But female tramps were only one segment of the population of transient women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Because the transient labor force was differentiated by sex, society labeled the male transient workers who moved in and out of manual and agricultural employment as hoboes and tramps, while it considered women transient workers, who toiled mainly in cities, to be the more respectable "women adrift." 2

This distinction reflected the difference between the two major groups of women transients. The first group consisted of women self-

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