Old-fashioned train & travel etiquette: What passengers in the 1920s needed to know

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1920s Union Station train in Chicago Illinois

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Here, see two articles from the twenties about old-fashioned train & travel etiquette from the 1920s. They offer insight into society’s rules of the past — and as much tell people what to do as what not to do when traveling the country by railroad.

Travel in the 1920s: Train station etiquette (1921)

By Mary Marshall Duffee – The Beaver Herald (Beaver, Oklahoma) September 08, 1921

To say that the well-bred person is on time when he takes a train might be unfair.

But it is a fact the well-bred person shows his consideration for others in his actions, and the person who comes into the station behind time, pushes by other people, runs into them with his traveling bag, summons a porter curtly, and tries to push ahead of others at the ticket window, is acting in an inconsiderate manner.

Old Union Station - Train depot in Worcester Mass

He is also making himself conspicuous, and the well-bred person does not attract undue attention to himself in public places.

It is nothing to be ashamed of if one has traveled but little, and some excellent folk have perhaps never been in a railroad train more than once or twice in their lives. Still, it is but natural that we should all want to appear to be at ease when we travel, and not to proclaim by our manners that we have never been about before.

Your conduct in the railroad station should, therefore, be composed and unruffled.

Old railway passenger station - Alma Michigan

If you have time to idle away before train time, it is quite all right to go to the newsstand and purchase a paper or magazine and read it; but there is no reason why you should have to invest in chewing gum, salted nuts and gumdrops, weigh yourself, and have your fortune told by one of the penny-in-the-slot machines, pace back and forth in the station, delve in your traveling bag to see whether you remembered to bring your slippers, or ask the station attendants innumerable unnecessary questions about why the train is late.

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Bird's eye view of Grand Central Terminal, New York City
Bird’s eye view of Grand Central Terminal, New York City

If you have been unable to get a tiny lunch, and really feel the need of nourishment, then you may be excused for eating a little milk chocolate while you wait, but remember that well-bred people do not eat in any public places, save restaurants and other places especially intended for that.

And the consensus of opinion seems to be that the very well-bred people do not kiss in the station. At any rate, they do it without attracting any undue attention, and save such signs of devotion till they have reached home.

Train station etiquette: What you must know before you travel by railroad (1921) - People at train station - 1920s

Train station etiquette differs in Europe

To be sure, when we travel in continental Europe, we see much kissing and embracing in the railroad stations — fathers embracing their grown sons and brothers with tears in their eyes kissing brothers, though they may not have been separated for many weeks.

But we Anglo-Saxons avoid such over-demonstrativeness, and the American way, as well as the British way, is to reveal as little as possible of our own personal affairs to others in the railway station.

We can excuse the woman who weeps audibly in the station when she sees her dear ones departing if she is old or very much overwrought, but the young woman should do her utmost to avoid such demonstration of her feelings in the station. It makes it very, much harder for those who leave her, and sometimes is painfully embarrassing.

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Old train station - Union Station in Montgomery Alabama


Nancy Page: Train & travel etiquette mark the well-bred person (1929)

By Florence La Ganke – The Ithaca Journal (Ithaca, New York) March 18, 1929

Nancy and Peter were returning from their short stay in Florida. On the train, Nancy watched folks and decided that many of them were good travelers but that a few needed some lessons in train and travel etiquette.

Nancy Page Train and travel etiquette mark the well-bred person (1929)

For instance, there was the woman who came into the dining car without a hat. It is true that the train was her home for the time being, but it was a home in the sense that a hotel is a home — just temporarily, and as such it becomes a place in which a person maintains certain formalities.

Then there was the woman who traveled with much jewelry and wore it all. The train is no place to shine like the morning star, nor is it the place where one’s dressiest clothes are worn.

No longer do women feel correctly dressed for traveling only when they are in blue serge, but the well-bred woman is still inconspicuous in her clothes when she travels.

Grand Central Station in New York, NY in 1921, by E O Hoppe

Another little habit of many travelers which annoyed Nancy was the conversational one. Invariably her seat was close beside two people who felt compelled to tell each other the life history of themselves, their families even unto the uttermost relationship.

Confidences which should never be given to one’s dearest friend seem to fail from the lips of some travelers into the ears of veriest strangers.

Nancy and Peter were courteous in their greetings to folks on the train, they gave a friendly greeting, passed the time of day, and then stopped.

Books, magazines, papers were always close at hand and were used to stop many attempts at wearisome and long, drawn-out conversations.

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