When subway cars almost became women-only

They were called “suffragette cars” when they were introduced in March 1909 on trains of the Hudson Tubes, which took passengers from Manhattan to Hoboken (today’s PATH).

And test runs of these single-sex subway cars—the last car in each train reserved for women only during rush hours—were also deemed a success. So much of a success, IRT officials considered the idea for the then–five year old New York City subway.

One women’s group, the Women’s Municipal League, supported the idea, while a host of others opposed it, stating that it was impractical and unnecessary.

After months of debate, the idea was abandoned. Officials decided that the Hudson Tube women-only cars weren’t that successful after all, and that women didn’t want them anyway.

Said one official in an August 1909 New York Times article:

“Almost an equal number of people (to the advocates of women’s cars) stated that men are the best protection that women have in a crowded car, and that they prefer to ride in cars where men and women are together, that while there are rare occasions when some brute will take advantage of the situation to insult a lady, on the other hand the gentlemen are the best protection the ladies want against such conduct.”

And subway pervs all over the city continued rubbing up against chicks in crowded cars. . . .

[1909 Hudson Tubes photo from Photographs of Old America]

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5 Responses to “When subway cars almost became women-only”

  1. Josie Says:

    Once again, thank you. I never knew that had been an issue on the subways. However, I do remember the Women Only cabins on the old Staten Island Ferry. The older boats (through early 1960s) had open, wrap-around upper decks, but there were closed cabins on the lower deck. On one side you had the Smoking Cabin (once actually men only but in my time women used it for smoking) and on the other side you had the Women Only cabin.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Cool info, thanks. Also, I found some old newspaper references to smoking cars on pre-subway elevated trains around the city. Male-only, of course!

  3. Nabe News: December 29 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle Says:

    [...] was a time when subway officials considered segregating subway cars by sex.  The last car would be deemed women-only during rush hour [Ephemeral [...]

  4. Don’t lean on me, man « The Half Empty Glass Says:

    [...] Ephemeral New York posts a story about something that I had never heard of. Apparently, the PATH-precursor “Hudson Tubes” had test runs of single-gender subway cars in the early 1900′s. And test runs of these single-sex subway cars—the last car in each train reserved for women only during rush hours—were also deemed a success. So much of a success, IRT officials considered the idea for the then–five year old New York City subway. [...]

  5. Lisa Says:

    Never knew of this, til now. Interesting.

    But, did New York ever flirt the the idea of “1st Class” & “2nd Class” cars, as they did in Paris, until the early 1990’s?

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