On January 1, 1915, Wilma K. Russey became a high-profile transportation pioneer by launching her career as New York City’s first female taxi driver. “New York’s First Feminine Chauffeur Starts Business on New Year’s Day,” proclaimed a headline in the next day’s edition of the New York Times.
Russey, who had been employed for more than a year as a car mechanic at Dalton’s Garage on West 50th Street in the city, began work as a taxi driver – “her calling,” as the New York Times characterized it – at 10:00 a.m. on Broadway. A group of men, wanting to have the honor of being her first passengers, asked Russey to take them for a short ride down the famous New York City thoroughfare. “The car traveled down Broadway, creating a sensation for several blocks until the party felt that its purpose had been accomplished,” reported the New York Times. “Then Miss Russey collected her first fare and tip.”
Russey helped pave the way for other women to pursue similar transportation careers, and she did so with an enviable blend of sophistication and savvy. Her standard on-the-job apparel – including black leather gloves as well as a leopard-skin hat and stole – captured the public imagination. In addition, her strong background as a mechanic gave her a huge advantage over many of her fellow taxi drivers when it came to making needed on-the-spot car repairs.