Posted on 02/03/2014

Photo taken on March  1, 1942

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Gertude Jeanette
African American Woman
1st NYC female cabbie

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New York City's First Female Cabbie

New York City's First Female Cabbie
[Photo: Ms. Jeannette's taxi permit] Much more than NYCs first licensed female cabbie: Gertrude Hadley Jeannette, was born in Urbana, Arkansas, on November 28, 1914, to Willis Lawrence Hadley and Salley Gertrude Crawford Hadley. She was raised in Arkansas where she attended Dunbar High School in Little Rock. Just before her high school graduation, Jeannette decided that she wanted to get married instead of attending Fisk University, as she had previously planned; she and Joe Jeannette, II, a prizefighter and the president of the Harlem Dusters, a motorcycle club, eloped to New York City in 1934.

In New York City, Jeannette learned to drive; in 1935 she became the first woman to get a license to drive a motorcycle. In 1942, because of the shortage of male taxicab drivers caused by the war, Jeannette became the first woman to drive a cab in New York City.

As the city's first female cabbie she remembered her first day on the job like it was yesterday: "Stupid me. I pulled up in front of the Waldorf-Astoria," the Harlem pioneer said. "In those days they didn't allow black drivers to work downtown. You had to work uptown." She instantly got the attention of the other drivers in front of the swanky Park Avenue hotel, who were clearly irritated that a black cabbie had dared to venture downtown. "The drivers tried to hem me in," she recalled. "They said, 'Say buddy, you know you're not supposed to be on this line." But Jeannette didn't budge. She sat calmly in her cab with her hair neatly tucked under her hat as other driver's verbally harassed her. Then a cabbie in a green Checker cab tried to cut in front of her. Finally, she'd had enough. "I rammed my fender under his fender, swung it over to the right and ripped it!" she said. She broke her silence, telling the angry driver, "You tried to cut in front of me, I couldn't stop." Her sweet voice prompted the irate cabbie to yell out, "A woman driver! A woman driver!" A hack inspector was already at the scene and scolded both drivers before she got her first customer at the hotel. "I took him down to Wall Street," she remembered. "I wasn't a tough cab driver. I was just a cab driver."

During this time, Jeannette decided to further her education; she took bookkeeping classes in the basement of Abyssinian Baptist Church, and speech classes at the American Negro Theater. In 1945, Jeannette was cast in the lead role in Our Town; in 1950, she performed in her first play, 'This Way Forward.' That same year, Jeannette and actor, Fred O’Neal appeared on television in James Weldon Johnson’s 'Gods Trombone' on CBS’s General Electric Hour; she had replaced Pearl Bailey, who was originally cast in that role. As a result, Jeannette continued to work both in the theater and in film and television; she went on to play roles in Broadway such as 'Lost In The Stars,' 'Amen Corner,' and 'The Great White Hope.' Some of her film credits include 'Shaft,' 'Black Girl,' and 'Cotton Comes To Harlem.'

In 1979, Jeannette founded the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players (Harlem Artists Development League Especially for You) in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. The mission of the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players was to give artists a chance to develop their talents and skills in the theater, and to enrich the cultural life in Harlem. Jeannette went on to direct, produce, and write her own plays, as well as the works of other playwrights.

She was presented with several awards for her work and accomplishments. In 1991, Jeannette was honored as a living legend at the National Black Theater Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and in 1998, she was honored with the Lionel Hampton Legacy Award. Jeannette was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1999, and in 2002, she received the prestigious Paul Robeson Award from the Actor’s Equity Association. Though retired, she remains an active and celebrated member of the New York theater scene well into her nineties.

Image/Bio: PRWeb