The city of New York hired Gertrude Hadley Jeanette, as its first woman licensed taxi driver in 1942. Jeanette also later became a notable film and stage actress and playwright.
Jeanette was born in Urbana, Arkansas in 1914 to a mother who was a homemaker and father who taught on a Native American reservation. During the Great Depression, her family moved to Little Rock, Arkansas where she attended the segregated Dunbar High School.
In 1935, Jeanette became the first woman to be licensed to drive a motorcycle. She went on to join her husband’s motorcycle club in the 1940s. She later took the test to become a cab driver and after passing the exam, Jeanette became the first woman driver in New York City.
Jeanette was a witness to the Peekskill Riots in 1949. Her husband worked as a bodyguard for Paul Robeson. When the Ku Klux Klan tried to lynch Robeson, she along with her husband rushed to aid him with their motorcycles.
Jeanette’s interests also included theater. She took a class in speech to correct a stuttering problem. The class was held at the American Negro Theater in Harlem, where she studied along with great actors, including Ruby Dee, Sidney Poiter, and Ossie Davis. Because of her incredible stage presence, she landed a role in the play “Our Town”. She later landed a role on Broadway in “Lost in the Stars”.
Jeanette started writing her own plays in the 1950s. She wanted to write strong and positive roles for women to play. Her first play premiered in 1950, titled, “The Way Forward”. However, because of her friendship with Paul Robeson, she was blacklisted.
During the 1960s and 1970s, she appeared in a number of Broadway productions. In the 1970s, she appeared in Black Girl, Cotton Comes to Harlem. She also appeared in Shaft. Gertrude Jeanette died in 2018 at the age of 103.