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Richter, Amy G.

Richter, Amy G.

PERSONAL:

Education: Columbia University, B.A.; New York University, Ph.D.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Department of History, Clark University, Worcester, MA 01610-1477. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Clark University, Worcester, MA, assistant professor of history, 2000—, codirector of Women's Studies Program.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Lerner-Scott Prize, Organization of American Historians, 2001, for dissertation.

WRITINGS:

Home on the Rails: Women, the Railroad, and the Rise of Public Domesticity, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 2005.

SIDELIGHTS:

Amy G. Richter is a historian whose interest is concentrated on the cultural history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century America, urban studies, and women's studies. Her research includes an exploration of the connection between women, consumerism, and U.S. overseas expansion in the 1890s.

Richter is author of Home on the Rails: Women, the Railroad, and the Rise of Public Domesticity, based on her award-winning dissertation. Women and railroading in nineteenth-century America seem to have little in common. Railroads were the industrial domain of men, while most women stayed at home. Richter uses changes in rail travel to study Victorian ideals and the integration of women into a male-dominated sector of society. She draws on the archives of one railroad in particular, the Pennsylvania Railroad, the "Standard Railroad of the World." She also studied the writings of male train porters and conductors, the memoirs of black female travelers, including Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells, and magazines and legal rulings of the period. Illustrations enhance her text.

When women began traveling by rail, they ventured into territory in which their respectability could sometimes be questioned. They shared the same uncomfortable accommodations as men until the second half of the century when the Gilded Age brought home-like comfort to rail travel. Parlor and sleeping cars were added, with their comfortable seating, gas lamps and electric lights, and polished woodwork. While the home was a private place, the railroad became a public place of domesticity as cars for women were added, as well as personnel whose job it was to cater to the needs of the women travelers. The special accommodations were available to wealthy white women, only, and black women suffered indignities white women did not. Even when they could afford better accommodations, black women were often denied. The Supreme Court "separate but equal" ruling meant nothing.

Women were warned of the dangers of rail travel, including from pickpockets, and advised not to flirt or accept food from strangers, acts that might be misconstrued. Articles were published on the subject, including some in the New York Times; even etiquette books told women what to pack and wear, and how to conduct themselves. Men were often banned from ladies' cars, even when they were traveling with sisters or wives. But in the early twentieth century, men were afforded their own spaces, including smoking cars, where they could travel separately from women.

In Roger H. Grant's review of Home on the Rails in the Historian, he concluded: "Richter has created a work that makes major contributions to women's studies as well as transportation and social history…. The concept of public domesticity is historically important and carefully explored in this well-written and expertly illustrated volume." Michigan Historical Review contributor Denise Spivey wrote: "The combination of anecdotes and thoughtful analysis makes this an interesting and nuanced addition to the scholarship of the late Victorian era."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Historical Review, April, 2006, Kathleen De Grave, review of Home on the Rails: Women, the Railroad, and the Rise of Public Domesticity, p. 493.

Business History Review, winter, 2005, Margaret Walsh, review of Home on the Rails, p. 871.

Chronicle of Higher Education, February 18, 2005, Nina C. Ayoub, review of Home on the Rails.

Historian, fall, 2006, H. Roger Grant, review of Home on the Rails, p. 602.

Journal of American Culture, December, 2005, Katie Rose Guest, review of Home on the Rails, p. 444.

Journal of American History, June, 2006, Glenna Matthews, review of Home on the Rails, p. 227.

Journal of Economic Literature, June, 2005, review of Home on the Rails, p. 592.

Michigan Historical Review, fall, 2005, Denise Spivey, review of Home on the Rails, p. 172.

Technology and Culture, January, 2006, Janet F. Davidson, review of Home on the Rails, p. 218.

ONLINE

Clark University Web site,http://www.clarku.edu/ (April 24, 2008), author profile.

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