Today in Feminist History: A ‘Working Woman’s Curfew’ (May 22, 1919)

Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.

May 22, 1919: A recently passed New York State law that puts all women workers at a disadvantage with men by restricting the number of hours per day and days per week women can work, and prohibits them from working between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. was the subject of a protest meeting this evening called by the Women’s League for Equal Opportunity.

PHOTO: Marie Bocinec, the first woman to be hired in New York City as a streetcar conductor in December, 1917.

After a number of women who had been fired from transit lines because of the law vented their outrage, attorney Amy Wren, counsel for the Brooklyn Rapid Transit League denounced the Lockwood-Caulfield Law for unfairly restricting the rights of women. The protest campaign is just getting started according to Wren, and the manager of a theater has offered to host future meetings.

On Saturday morning, Wren, accompanied by women from the Interborough Rapid Transit Company and the New York Railways Company, will talk to Governor Al Smith in an attempt to try to get him to change his views. He strongly supports the law because he claims that “medical authorities” have determined that night work is “injurious” to women.

A report was submitted to the Governor today by the Public Service Commissioner, stating that:

“So long as this bill, enacted in response to the demand for welfare legislation, remains law and is enforced, as it must be, the general employment of women in many places on these roads must cease.”

The General Manager of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company has said that if the law is strictly enforced, 365 cars now in operation would have to be discontinued.

Fortunately, New York women have had the vote for a year and a half, so this would seem like an excellent time for women – and all those who believe in equality for women – to use their power to pressure the Governor and other State officials into repealing this law.


David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.