Resistance on the Subway: The Straphanger Revolt of 1911

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On a Wednesday evening more than a century ago frustrated straphangers staged a rush hour revolt on a crowded train bound for Dyckman Street.

Many enduring 2017’s “Summer of Hell” can likely relate to this “first” act of civil disobedience that played out on the rails of northern Manhattan.

The below account is ripped from the pages of the New York Herald:

New York Herald, March 2, 1911
New York Herald, March 2, 1911

New York Herald
March 2, 1911

Two hundred passengers last night refused to leave a Dyckman Street subway train when they were ordered to change cars at the 137th Street station. The insistence of the passengers that a train labeled Dyckman Street should run through to Dyckman Street is probably the first instance of its kind in the history of the subway.

When the guards called “All out; change cars!” at 137th Street, most of the passengers got out grumbling, but several men and women in each car held indignation meetings and finally decided to stay on the train and bid defiance to the guards. The latter fumed and fretted and threatened, but the passengers made a united stand.

207th Street subway platform in 1912.
207th Street subway platform in 1912.

The train was held for twenty-five minutes and all the trains behind it were blocked for the same time, but in the end the passengers triumphed. Somebody gave orders that the stalled train should proceed to Dyckman Street, and it did so, reaching there about half an hour behind its scheduled time.

After the guards made several ineffectual attempts to get the passengers to leave the train the motorman passed through the cars and threatened to take them into the yards. They laughed at him. Those who had left the train took courage and got on the train again. The guards attempted to prevent this and several clashes were imminent.

The end of the conflict came when the ticket agent received a telephone message from the chief dispatcher ordering the train all the way up.”

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