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Maya Angelou, SF Streetcar Conductor

Maya Angelou has passed away, at the age of 86. As an adult, she gained global fame as a writer. Well before that, as as a teen-ager, she broke barriers right here in San Francisco, when she was hired by our namesake, Market Street Railway, as the first female African-American streetcar conductor in the city.

She first told this story in “I Know Why the the Caged Bird Sings,” many years ago. She didn’t name the line she worked, but based on her description, it was more than likely the 7-Haight.

She talked to Oprah about it last year. We have a clip of that interview here. It’s well worth watching.

During her tenure with Market Street Railway Company, which did not last very long, she more than likely worked out of the Haight Street car barn near Stanyan. The type of streetcar she worked on was almost certainly from Market Street Railway’s “100-class,” built by the Jewett Car Company of Ohio in 1911, pictured below.

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Maya Angelou worked as a conductor on the rear platform of a streetcar of this type, most likely on the 7-Haight line. Here, the streetcar is crossing Golden Gate Park, having just left Playland-at-the-Beach for another trip to the Ferry Building. They were long trips, and after dark, pretty lonely in the western end of the city back then. Photo from Market Street Railway Archives, Walt Vielbaum collection.

In our San Francisco Railway Museum, you can stand at the conductor’s station of a streetcar identical to the one Maya Angelou worked on. Our volunteers have constructed an exact replica, complete with firebox, conductor’s bell, and all the other details from the period. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. across from the Ferry Building at the F-line Steuart Street stop (77 Steuart Street), and it’s free.

We are all enriched by the legacy of wonderful works left by Dr. Angelou. A life well lived, indeed.

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