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Leadfoot Ladies: Remembering Gertrude Jeannette, New York City’s First Licensed Female Cab Driver

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In 1942, Gertrude Jeannette — an African-American woman from Arkansas — sat down behind the wheel of a cab as the first licensed female taxi driver in New York City.

According to her obituary in The New York Times, Gertrude responded to an advertisement in the local paper for female cab drivers. Many male cab drivers had been drafted in World War II, leaving behind a slew of job openings that needed to be filled. She applied for the position and took the test alongside 31 other women. Out of all 32 women, only two passed — including Gertrude. However, the other woman to pass the test was rejected due to prior citations on her license.

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At that time, black drivers remained segregated, forbidden from working downtown. Instead, they were expected to work in uptown — but Gertrude wasn’t having any of that. Despite sexist and racist comments spit her way, she sat calmly in line at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Manhattan on her first day.

Gertrude’s patience ran out when another cab driver cut in front of her in line. “I rammed my fender under his fender, swung it over to the right and ripped it,” said Gertrude at an event in 2011. The other driver was shocked to see a woman sitting behind the wheel. But Gertrude stood up for herself and picked up her first customer.

It’s women like Gertrude who pave the way for future generations. Equality requires all of us to put in the leg work, just like Gertrude did. And people like Gertrude, people who stand up for themselves and for others, leave this world behind an even better place than they found it.

Gertrude Jeannette passed away on April 4, 2018, at the age of 103.

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Sources: The New York Times, Actors’ Equity