Drawing upon the Newberry’s rich Pullman Company archives, Miriam Thaggert will discuss African American women and railroad travel in the United States. The Pullman Company, based in Chicago, was at one time the largest employer of African American labor in the U.S. The black male Pullman porter symbolized the elegance of the Pullman car, but complicated ideas of racial segregation because of his necessary presence in all areas of the train. Thaggert focuses on the comparatively overlooked story of the black women who worked for Pullman as maids and female attendants, beginning in the late nineteenth century. For these women, laboring in the interior of a railroad car was, at times, a better alternative to cooking or cleaning as a domestic in the household of American women. Reading and contextualizing archival material such as employee cards, grievance letters, and instruction manuals, Thaggert discusses the material and psychic costs of gender and racial discrimination on the rails and the difficulties—and liberties—of working as a “hand maiden” for the Pullman Palace Car Company.
Miriam Thaggert is Associate Professor of English and Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Iowa. She is currently conducting research at the Newberry as a long-term fellow.
This public lecture is organized in conjunction with the Newberry exhibition Civil War to Civil Rights: African American Chicago in the Newberry Collection. The exhibition is curated by the Newberry with generous support from The Allstate Insurance Company. Additional support provided by the Rosaline G. Cohn Endowment for Exhibitions.
Free and open to the public.