In August of 1944, the Los Angeles Railway hired Mrs. Arcola Philpott as its first African American “motormanette.” This was the term given to women who drove the railway cars. Not only was Philpott the first motormanette, she was the first black service driver the railway hired. She rode the railways on the “F” line from 116th South Vermont Avenue to Union Station terminal.
Arcola Philpott of Chicago was a graduate of Loyola University with a degree in social science. She was an accomplished pianist and spoke several languages. After her stint in Los Angeles as a railway driver, Philpott worked in welfare and then took a job in research at the University of Chicago.
Between 1940 and 1944, the black population in Los Angeles more than doubled. President Roosevelt issued the wartime Executive Order 8802 prohibiting employment discrimination of workers based on race. Railway workers in Philadelphia were struggling and decided to go on strike to gain momentum in the hiring practices of motormen. The president ordered the men back to work, threatening the draft if they did not cooperate.
With the help of Reverend Clayton Russell and the Los Angeles Negro Victory Comittee, the AFL-CIO, the NAACP, and the Fair Employment Practices Commission, black streetcar motormen were on the rise. Only weeks after Philpott was hired, LA Railway hired additional black motormen: Louis S. Bernard, Hoyt A. Brown, Percy B. Hill, Roosevelt Mills, Butler James Mitchell, W.B. Jones, E.M. Morris, W.S.A. Weary and James Womack.
The streetcar railway company was soon sold to the L.A. Transit Lines Company, making way for the increasing number of bus lines in 1945.
Arcola Philpott returned to Chicago and worked as a licensed nurse, a journalist for the Pittsburgh Courier and at the Museum of Science and Industry. She passed away on May 14, 1991.