The Black Maids Of The Pullman Company

frances albrier sitting down
Briona Lamback
May 22, 2024

By the 1920s, 20,000 Black men were Pullman porters, the crème de la crème of luxury train travel. Not many people know that Black maids worked alongside the Pullman porters on those same trains. Both the porters and the maids were overworked, underpaid, and depended on tips to make ends meet.

The Pullman Company’s maids were responsible for attending to traveling women and children. In addition to assisting passengers with luggage, they performed child care and nursed sick passengers. They even offered personal services like sewing, hairdressing, and manicures.

It was thankless work. When passengers lost something, they accused the maids of stealing. At the same time, maids endured sexual harassment and abuse.  Because they were at the bottom of the "train hierarchy,” maids were paid less than porters but worked longer hours. They had little control over their working conditions until this happened.

The Pullman porters and maids were ready to unionize. Maids risked getting fired to fight for better pay, shorter hours, and more protections. They also attended annual conventions, canvassed, and hosted dinners to publicize their demands. In 1925, their efforts resulted in the establishment of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first Black labor union in the US.

Black women have always been the backbone of Black liberation. Few brotherhoods have existed without a sisterhood to give them strength. This is why we have to remember how much we need each other.