By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In the New York Transit Museum, nestled underground on the corner of Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street, the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association, headed by Appellate Division Justice Sylvia Hinds-Radix, held its Women’s Month Celebration on Tuesday.
As one walks through the museum, relics of New York’s rapid-transit past are adorned on the walls and multimedia displays. Old turnstiles and iconic signs greet you at every turn. One may forget the impact that women have had on New York’s transit system. That is -- until you walk past the images of the Miss Subways.
From 1941 to 1976, the transit system ran the "Miss Subways" beauty contest as an advertising campaign. The main requirements were that the candidate live in New York and ride the subways. The women chosen were often working women or students.
Maureen Walsh Roaldson was Miss Subways in 1968. At that time, Roaldson, a Brooklynite, was a secretary at Downstate Medical Center and a hostess at Shea Stadium.
“Growing up, there were not many opportunities for women,” Roaldson said to the BWBA audience. “You could either be a secretary or, if you were Catholic, you could be a nun.”
Determined to change this trajectory, Roaldson enrolled in Brooklyn College in her 30s and then Brooklyn Law School., taking evening classes. And the Miss Subways title continued to follow her.
“I remember taking the bar exam in 1990. There was a girl behind me who overheard that I was a Miss Subways. It turned out that her mother was also a Miss Subways and a woman that I knew fairly well,” she recounted.
Roaldson spent the majority of her legal career as a court attorney in the 2nd Department Appellate Division, in the courthouse on Monroe Place in Brooklyn Heights. She retired in 2010.
“As women we should appreciate how far we have come,” Roaldson noted. “Working women adorn the walls as Miss Subways.”
Nowadays, the New York transit system does not just employ women as pretty faces for ad campaigns, MTA attorneys Elizabeth Cooney and Florence Dean said in their presentation. “There is a great deal of breadth and variety of the law that is dealt with within the MTA,” said Dean. “The New York Transit system has long been a steppingstone for women.”
Dean and Cooney noted that there are some areas where conventional, although inaccurate, gender roles are emphasized.
“Women that work for the transit system in the trades, such as mechanics or electricians, may have a slightly more difficult time with gender sensitivity,” Cooney said. “But we are working to break down those gender barriers.”
Many departments within the MTA are mainly female, the speakers noted. “In my department, I would say it is about 75 percent women employees,” said Cooney.
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes also noted that women make up a large number of his staff as well. “The majority of our assistant district attorneys are women. And the majority of our executives are women,” Hynes noted. “I am proud to have transformed the DA’s Office with the help of the women in my office.”