Maya Angelou Plaque | San Francisco Travel

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July 6, 2016
Maya Angelou's plaque on San Francisco's Jack Kerouac Alley.

Dr. Maya Angelou: It All Started with a Cable Car

Many people know the late Dr. Maya Angelou — the poet, educator, historian, best-selling author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist, and the list goes on…

But what many don't know is before she made history through her work, she made history on the streets of San Francisco.

Back when she was only a teenager, Dr. Angelou was the recipient of a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco's Labor School. At only 14-years-old, she dropped out to become the city's first female and African-American Cable Car conductor.

"The thought of sailing up and down the hills of San Francisco in a dark-blue uniform, with a money changer at my belt, caught my fancy," she later wrote in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

And getting the job wasn't easy — Dr. Angelou had to convince management to hire her. After finally negotiating her way into the workforce (remember, she was only 14!) administration allowed her to ring the trademark Cable Car bell and hang off the back of the open-air car.

"…I was swinging on the back of the rackety trolley, smiling sweetly and persuading my charges to 'step forward in the car, please,'" she wrote.

Used back then as an innovative (after all, this IS San Francisco) and critical means of commute for residents, the Cable Cars now are officially a National Historic Landmark. Still driven manually by conductors, the men and — thanks to Dr. Angelou, women — who operate the cars through the city's famous hills are considered some of the most coveted and proud employees of the public transportation system. They even compete each year in a Bell Ringing Competition to see who has the best signature ring.

Visitors can experience the Cable Cars on three lines:

You can also learn more about the Cable Cars and their history at the San Francisco Railway Museum


Photo By Eric E. Castro / CCBY

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