The Pullman Company maids have long been overshadowed by the more well-known Pullman porters. Handmaidens for Travelers, on view in the Newberry galleries June 3 through September 16, is helping to tell their stories.
For many Americans, riding on a Pullman train gave them access to unparalleled service, style, and luxury. For the Pullman Company’s Black employees, the same train compartment offered stable employment while presenting formidable risks and challenges.
Billed as “handmaidens for travelers,” Pullman maids navigated the demands of white passengers and the watchful eye of the Pullman Company itself every time they boarded the train.
Drawing on extensive research in the Pullman Company Records at the Newberry, Handmaidens for Travelers highlights the complexity of the maids’ experiences. Visitors can see a range of archival materials, including several that have never before been presented to the public: applications and employee cards, an instruction manual for maids, advertisements, photographs, and one maid’s handwritten account of her work history.
Handmaidens for Travelers: The Pulllman Company Maids has been curated by Miriam Thaggert, Assocate Professor of English at the University of Buffalo. Thaggert is also the author of Riding Jane Crow: African American Women on the American Railroad.
You can see Professor Thaggert at the Newberry on Wednesday, June 29, at 6pm for a conversation with historian Mia Bay about the themes of the exhibition.
Plan Your Visit
- The galleries are open Tuesday – Thursday, 10 am – 7 pm; Friday and Saturday, 10 am – 5 pm
- Face masks are optional.
- No appointments or advance tickets needed. Newberry exhibitions are free and open to all.