Employment of Women on the Erie during WWI
In 1918, the US Railroad Administration began to survey its member railroads at several times throughout the year regarding employment patterns. As related in the August, 1919 issue of Erie Railroad Magazine, the USRA found that, nationwide, 101,785 women were working at railroad occupations at the high point of female employment, October 1, 1918. The Erie accounted for 11 percent of that total, employing 10,274 women in various job categories.
On the Erie, the largest category employing women by far was clerical: 81 percent of the female workers worked as clerks, stenographers, draftswomen and assistants, and ticket clerks. Four percent were employed as shop workers -- Blacksmiths, boilermakers, coppersmiths, pipe fitters, electricians, machinists (including helpers and apprentices), and shop laborers. Another 4 percent worked cleaning cars, stations, offices and shops. Just over 2 percent worked in the roundhouses (crew callers, roundhouse clerks and engine wipers). Remaining job categories that employed at least some women included: Station and toolroom attendents; Telegraph and telephone operators; Billing and yard clerks; Right-of-way cleaners and weed-pullers; Cooks, dishwashers and waitresses; Messengers; Crossing Watchwomen; Switchtenders; and Supervisors of women employees.
The Buffalo Car Shops reported in October, 1917: "The women are doing very satisfactory work, performing their various duties in a businesslike manner. So popular is the employment with these young women that we have a long waiting list."
Female employment during the war began to ebb after 1918, due to industry-wide reductions in employment in the first quarter of 1919 as well as to men returning from military or Red Cross service to their previous or comparable jobs. The Erie's policy, stated in October, 1917, was to reinstate military veterans in their previous positions or "other congenial duties" upon their return.