How Maya Angelou First Made History As A Cable Car Operator

streetcar on rails
Alyssa Guznik
April 18, 2023

“I loved the uniforms.” Something so simple was an integral part of her dream job. She was a world-renowned author, poet, and civil rights activist. Still, before all of that, a teenage Maya Angelou finessed herself into the history books.

At the time, being a cable car conductor was a prestigious position, and finding a young Black woman in such a role was pretty rare. That didn’t dissuade Angelou, however. With her mother’s blessing and encouragement, at the age of 16, she set out to achieve her dream.

The first day Angelou showed up, she found herself snubbed. It would be another two weeks of her standing outside the cable car office and finessing her age on the application before she’d finally be awarded the position.

Angelou’s determination and perseverance landed her the job of her dreams and the distinction of being the first Black female cable car conductor in San Francisco.

Despite her challenges, Maya Angelou enjoyed the autonomy and sense of pride that came with the job. In her later writing, Angelou often spoke about her time as a conductor and how it taught her the value of hard work and perseverance. Sometimes when the system blocks you at every turn, you must finesse your way around it like Dr. Angelou.