The first World War brought with it unprecedented manpower challenges to local transit companies.
Our earliest held Pacific Electric employee news magazine was published in November, 1918, the month that the four-year conflict ended. (Our collection of Los Angeles Railway employee news magazines does not begin until 1920).
It notes that 490 “Pacific Electric boys” went bravely forth to war, but that “the first golden stars have only just been added to our Service Flag” with the loss of two gallant soldiers, Joseph L. Rodman and Clyde Burgher.
Most of the November, 1918 issue recounts those serving overseas along with excerpts from their cards and letters. It appears that only two service members employed by Pacific Electric lost their lives in battle — both toward the very end of the war.
Back at home, Los Angeles was booming during the first decades of the 20th century. The population of the city and Los Angeles County as a whole both grew more than 5 times in size between 1900 and 1920.
But as World War I dragged on, transit agencies began looking to women to fill in for men for streetcar operation.
The idea was not a new one beyond Los Angeles. Several hundred women had already begun working as operators at the New York Railway and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company.
The April 18, 1918 edition of the Los Angeles Times carried a front page story on the training of the city’s first known woman transit operator.
Jennie Shand had previously worked in the Los Angeles Railway offices, and later returned to its main switchboard through the 1920s. She is the earliest female streetcar operator that we know of to date, participating in Los Angeles Railway’s testing.
But that Los Angeles Times front page article documents some changing attitudes regarding women working jobs traditionally held by men.
It notes that:
“It would be no snap for women to work on street cars. No weaklings need apply. It’s a man’s job, and it’ll take the super-woman to make good…streetcar conductors cannot wear high heels, the tight belts and the draperies. It will take a supple woman with plenty of muscle to make good.”
On the flipside, George B. Anderson, chief of the Public Relations Department, notes in the same article that:
“The ‘conductress’ acquitted herself with credit in every test to which she was put and gave evidence that in some circumstances a woman may serve the public better than a man.”
This took place during a period of great advancement for women. The following year, women were granted the right to vote via passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on June 4, 1919 — later ratified on August 18, 1920.
Reflecting that progress, the Los Angeles Times article quotes an anonymous member of The Friday Morning Club in Los Angeles. She states:
“From the start, the presence of women in uniform on the street cars would be received with tremendous enthusiasm by progressive liberal-minded women…that women, being invited to participate in the actual operation of a great public utility, would rise to the responsibility and that practically all womankind would rejoice to know that their sex had finally been selected to render service of this character.”
We believe that by the time it was determined that women held the potential to successfully fill in for men serving overseas, the war ended and nearly all the deployed employees were heading home.
And we don’t know too much more about Jennie Shand, except that she must have loved to travel.
Other mentions in Two Bells, the Los Angeles Railway employee news magazine, discuss the upcoming automobile trip to British Columbia in 1924, with a planned stop at Yosemite Valley for the “former chief telephone operator of the main office switchboard.”
And in 1928, she was preparing for a four month tour of Europe, planning “to visit all of the cities of the Old World.”
We continue to search for information regarding Jennie Shand, other women transit operators who may have participated in this testing, and other “firsts” in Los Angeles transit and transportation history.
Other notable firsts in Los Angeles transit and transportation history:
Los Angeles transit’s first Black employee, William E. “Bill” Wells (1862-1943)
Los Angeles transit’s first African-American operator, Arcola Philpott (1944)