I live in Washington state and teach at Washington State University. I am originally from New Orleans but haven't been home for 40 years. My mom and aunt were a couple of the women who worked as conductresses on the streetcars during World War II. Recently, my mom, who is 84, told me that one of the saddest moments in her life was when the women were let go at the end of the war. She said the process was abrupt and without ceremony. The women were told to hand in their badges to any of the returning vets who wanted them. She asked me to write about this and to tell her story and the story of those women. I am doing so in the form of a play to be performed at the college of Women's History Month. I would appreciate any info on those times.
What a good son you are to do this for your mother. And after 40 years, I'll bet you really know what it means to miss New Orleans.
Operating a streetcar was probably not every young girl's dream, but for a three-year period from 1943 to 1946, many young women did that very thing. The manpower shortage made it necessary for the jobs to be filled by women who were known as "motorettes" and "conductorettes." Several hundred were hired to replace the men who had joined up to fight for right, freedom, and the American way. Of course, when the men returned, they were given their jobs back, and it would not be until the 1970s that women would return as streetcar operators.
Sixty years ago, you could ride a streetcar for seven cents, and transfers were free. The women replacing the conductors and the motormen made 58 cents an hour, but had a chance to make time-and-a-half or double-time. They worked on every shift on every line including the "owl run" from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. The "motorettes" were in charge of driving the cars, while the "conductorettes" took in fares, distributed transfers, and opened and closed the doors.
During the war years, there were a number of streetcar lines in operation: Canal, Dauphine, Desire, Freret, Gentilly, Jackson, Magazine, Napoleon Avenue "Royal Blue Line," St. Charles, St. Claude, South Claiborne, Tulane Avenue, Tulane Belt and West End.
The St. Charles Line, which has been in operation since 1835, is the oldest continuous operation of any street railway in the world. The Desire Line, made famous in Tennessee Williams' hit play A Streetcar Named Desire, saw its last full day of service in May 1948. But the Canal Line, which we all thought would never return when buses were substituted in 1964, has begun operation again after 40 years. And you can also transfer to a streetcar that will take you from Canal Street down Carrollton Avenue to City Park. By the way, 35 of the old green 900 series streetcars are still running on the St. Charles Line, but the new streetcars are red and air conditioned.
Recently, at our National D-Day Museum, there was a gathering of women -- Annie Booth, Katherine Nicolosi Vindigni, Camille Incardona, Catherine Maggio Robinson and Vivian Nesser -- who remembered their days and told wonderful stories about their experiences working on the streetcars. Your mother would have loved it.
I got a request from an out-of-town friend trying to do a little background work on his family who apparently had a brewery named the Lafayette. Do you know anything about the brewery?
The Lafayette Brewery at 1008-1010 Tchoupitoulas St. was in 1890 one of six breweries that was purchased by the New Orleans Brewing Association. The others were the Southern, Weckerling, Louisiana, Pelican and Crescent. The local organization bought the breweries to foil the attempts of an English syndicate. After the buyout, the Lafayette was called the Lafayette Branch of the New Orleans Brewing Company.
While New Orleans has been home to as many as 13 breweries, the coming of World War I and Prohibition brought the end to most of them, including the Lafayette.