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The strange world of the New York subways by one of the first women to work as a conductor

Underground Woman

My Four Years as a New York City Subway Conductor

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Marian Swerdlow

Take a wild ride through the New York City subway system with author Marian Swerdlow, one of the first women subway conductors. In the days when subway cars were canvas for graffiti murals and there were no toilets for women employees, Swerdlow trained in Manhattan's underworld of tunnels and learned how to cope with the accompanying dangers and frustrations. Her fascinating insider's account from four years on the job is laden with anecdotes that range from the funny to the painful to the absurd.

From her fellow employees, she got grief and harassment, but also camaraderie and love-and a distinct subway lingo that permeates her prose. At all hours of the day and night, New Yorkers in their glorious diversity rode her subway cars. Some spat on her and assaulted her; others were supportive and cheered her on. A white woman in a mostly minority male workplace, Swerdlow helped edit a rank-and-file newsletter, "Hell on Wheels," and tried to organize for better working conditions, confronting the Kafkaesque Transit Authority bureaucracy and complacent union leadership.

This book is full of the experiences that give New York City its edge-the rush hour, crime, medical emergencies, fires in subway cars, floods in subway tunnels, and confrontation of ethnic groups. The conductor is the person who hears what New Yorkers have to say about the quality of life in the Big Apple. And Swerdlow is a narrator with attitude, who has her own words for the subway system of today, including the new standards of politeness that riders are supposed to observe. Includes a glossary of over 140 subway terms.

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Excerpt

Read an excerpt from Chapter 2 (pdf).

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Reviews

"[A] fascinating story of not only a period in time when the New York Subway was perhaps at its low point (the early 1980s) but also a time when few women were employed at front-line transit positions."
Public Transport

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Contents

Acknowledgments
1. Introduction
2. More Than Door Openers
3. Woodlawn
4. Crew Room Cowboys
5. Health and Safety
6. Greatness
7. Hell on Wheels
8. Rejection
9. Lackluster
10. Greater Greatness
11. Miscellaneous
12. Coworkers
13. Characters and Cronies
14. Riders and Conductors
15. Transit Worker Wit and Wisdom
16. Why I Left
17. The More Things Change...
Afterword
Glossary

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About the Author(s)

Marian Swerdlow teaches high school social studies in New York City. After working as a subway conductor, she taught sociology at the State University College at Buffalo. Swerdlow was born and grew up in the Bronx.

Subject Categories

General Interest
Labor Studies and Work
Women's Studies


In the series

Labor and Social Change, edited by Paula Rayman and Carmen Sirianni.

Labor and Social Change, edited by Paula Rayman and Carmen Sirianni, includes books on workplace issues like worker participation, quality of work life, shorter hours, technological change, and productivity, as well as union and community organizing and ethnographies of particular occupations.

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