Arcola Philpott, Los Angeles Railway’s first African American motorman

As we settle into Women’s History Month, we would like to shine a spotlight on Los Angeles Railway’s first African American motorman: Arcola Philpott.

Hired in August of 1944, Arcola Philpott’s work at the Los Angeles Railway — which ran some of our region’s network of streetcars — earned her an important place in Los Angeles transportation history. She was the first Black streetcar operator, paving the way for other Black employees and for women. Shortly after the hiring of Mrs. Philpott, Los Angeles Railway went on to hire its first Black motormen.

A true Angeleno, Mrs. Philpott lived in the heart of the vibrant Central Avenue jazz district. She worked out of Arthur Winston Division 5, in South L.A., and drove the “F” line from 116th/South Vermont Avenue to Union Station, a route similar to today’s Metro Bus Lines 204 and 754.

Digital donation from Sean Davies and Thomas Helliwell. First African-American streetcar conductor in Los Angeles, Arcola Philpott.

Although Mrs. Philpott was a phenomenal operator, her career with Los Angeles Railway was just a tiny portion of her amazing life. She was originally from Chicago, where she graduated from Loyola University with a degree in social science. She was also an accomplished pianist and spoke several languages. After her stint in Los Angeles as a streetcar operator, Philpott worked as a nurse and even took a job in research at the University of Chicago.

Mrs. Philpott passed away in 1991. Her daughter, Ethel Philpott, believes she was the inspiration for many other women going to work in what had been known as a job traditionally for men.

Today Metro’s bus and rail operator workforce of approximately 4,700 employees includes 33.9 percent women,  20.7 percent African American men and 22.9 percent African American women.

Metro continues to strive for a more gender-balanced workforce and encourages women to seek careers in what have been traditionally male dominated fields. If you are interested in becoming a bus operator, visit The agency is hiring and we very much need new bus operators as part of our push to restore full pre-pandemic bus service.