World War II “Trainwomen” of the Long Island Railroad

In 1942, The Long Island Railroad (LIRR) took the unprecedented step of hiring women as engine cleaners. World War II’s labor shortages had opened new doors for women, especially in the transportation industry. The engine cleaners performed well, so the LIRR hired many more women for positions previously held only by men, dubbing them “trainwomen.” LIRR president M. W. Clement explained in a press release, “The substitution of inexperienced employees for the trained employees has been a problem so far well met, and many women are now in services that have generally been accepted as a man’s calling.”

Lillian Markowski, age 20, an engine cleaner for the Long Island Railroad. Markowski took over her fiance’s job when he joined the Army. Her brother was also a soldier. Photo by Roy Pitney, February 2, 1943, Ivy Ledbetter Lee Papers (MC085), Box 103, Folder 4.

Ivy Lee and Associates, the pioneering public relations company owned by Ivy Ledbetter Lee (Princeton University Class of 1898), represented the LIRR. As the LIRR began hiring women, Lee’s company sent out materials with text and images promoting this a positive move, not a threat to men currently fighting abroad. “Don’t worry about your jobs,” one said on a radio broadcast for troops in Australia and Great Britain, “We’ll hold the home front until you men come home. Then you can have your jobs back.” A press release about the broadcast praised this as evidence of “fine, whole hearted devotion to the cause of democracy” among women working for the railroad. Continue reading