Old cases often provide quaint amusement to modern ears. So it is with an 1881 case where a railroad defended its right to exclude a passenger from a “Ladies’ Car.”
It is quaint enough that there should be a Ladies’ Car, where delicate ears will be shielded from the raucous behavior of male passengers. But in that case, the railroad wanted to throw out a passenger because she was a “notorious courtesan.” The company’s argument reads like pages lost in time. What, it asked, “could be more repulsive and annoying to ladies than to know that whores will be entitled to be seated by them in railroad cars?” “Why establish or maintain a ‘Ladies’ Car’ at all if … improper characters can get admittance there”?
In a progressive opinion, the Court held that the railroad could only exclude passengers if they behaved inappropriately on the train, not by reason of their reputation alone. The railroads, even in their distant past, would not be allowed to sit as judge and jury of their passengers’ characters.