Dr. Robin D. Muhammad’s article on “Separate and Unsanitary: African-American Women Railroad Car Cleaners and the Women’s Service Section, 1918-1920,” was named a runner-up for the prize for best article published by the Journal of Women’s History in 2011-2012.
Muhammad is Chair and Associate Professor of African American Studies and Director of the African American Research & Service Institute at Ohio University. She will receive the award May 22 in Toronto at the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women.
The prize committee, composed of three members from the Journal’s Editorial Board, evaluated each article published during a two-year cycle, with an eye toward finding the article that “makes a significant contribution to the international field of women’s history by incorporating a comparative dimension, considering contexts beyond its main geographical and temporal focus, employing methodologies that demonstrate historical interconnections across time and space, and/or advancing feminist theories in women’s history.”
The committee described Muhammad’s article as “elegant and insightful,” and wrote the following: “Muhammad revisits familiar terrain, the railroad industry of the early 20th century, to reveal an unwritten chapter, a chapter wrought from the labor activism of black women car cleaners. The article moves effectively from the material challenges such women confronted in an industry organized by Jane Crow, to their strategic alliances with the Women’s Service Section and its agents. This story of their struggle for access to equal facilities charts out a new, rich analysis at the intersection of race, gender, and labor.”
Abstract: The Women’s Service Section (WSS) investigated federally controlled railroad stations and yards at the end of World War I. Few women worked in car cleaning before the war, and railroad management preferred to block women workers, especially African Americans, from gaining any kind of foothold in railroad work. African American women were the single largest group of railroad car cleaners during this period but they were routinely denied adequate facilities, including toilets, locker rooms, and dining facilities throughout the railroad system. By raising the issues of facilities, workers’ rights, and public health, these women shaped federal policy and widened the agenda of the WSS to include a direct attack on segregated workplaces. This article argues that African American women car cleaners launched an industrial campaign that wove together concerns about racism, sexism, and health issues, and successfully removed barriers to women working in a predominately male industry.