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When Women Weren’t Allowed to Stand on the Outside of Cable Cars

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A 1968 photo of people riding a cable car at night as it stops at Powell and Bush streets.

It might be hard to believe that until 1965, women were deprived of the joy of standing on the running boards on either side of San Francisco’s cable cars.

Just three years prior to the time of the 1968 photo above, the now-familiar sight of men and women riding a cable car with equal access was unofficially prohibited. The practice was changed after Mona Hutchins, a 19-year-old UC Berkeley student and free speech advocate, stood up and was arrested for refusing to yield an unwritten restriction that didn’t apply to men.

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, scenes from our photo archives like these remind us that while social progress may still seem hard-won today, it can be easy to take for granted the changes that have moved us on from eras past.

It’s certainly a different era for the SFMTA. Last year, our agency was recognized at that year’s Women’s Transportation Seminar as Employer of the Year for the agency’s commitment to hiring and placing women in leadership roles, and we welcomed our third-ever female cable car grip, Amber Jones.

Of course, we all owe the very privilege of riding cable cars today to Friedel Klussmann, who stood up to save them 18 years before she would be allowed to stand in the breeze as she rode one.

Mona Hutchins holding a pole while standing on a crowded cable car.
Mona Hutchins on a cable car.