Meet San Francisco's Women Trailblazers
Since the Gold Rush, San Francisco has been a place where people go to make a name for themselves. Throughout its history, a number of San Franciscans have done just that, their reputations and influence spreading across the country. But did you know that among our city's many boundary-breakers are a great many women? Get to know these women trailblazers from San Francisco's past and present, then go out and see where you can experience their legacies today.
Did you know that profound poet and author Dr. Maya Angelou was once a San Francisco cable car operator, one of the first African-American women to hold that job? When she was refused an application, she sat in their office every day for two weeks until she was hired.
A celebrated sculptor, Ruth Asawa's greatest legacy, besides her artwork, was the creation of the San Francisco School of the Arts. She was a trailblazer for minority women in the world of modern art. Her wire-based works are on display in major museums across the country. There are also plenty right here in town at the de Young Museum. Buy tickets to the de Young Museum.
In 2018, London Breed, a native San Franciscan, became the first African-American woman elected as mayor of San Francisco. Mayor Breed had long been a community and government leader in the City by the Bay, first as the executive director of the African-American Art & Culture Center and later as a member and eventually president of the city's Board of Supervisors.
The three-time Tony Award winner and Oscar nominee grew up in San Francisco and remains one of the city's most beloved residents, even after her death. The theater at San Francisco's Lowell High School, from which she graduated, is named after her.
Irreverent, insightful, and side-splittingly hilarious, Margaret Cho has starred in her own ABC sitcom, as well as headlined comedy clubs across the United States. Her life began in San Francisco, growing up in the Mission District and watching her father run a gay bookstore on Polk St. in the '70s and '80s.
Lillie Hitchcock Coit
If her last name sounds familiar, it's because Lillie was the benefactor for the construction of San Francisco's Coit Tower. A true trailblazer, wearing masculine fashions such as trousers long before they were accepted women's wear, she kept herself close to the city's rough and tumble action. Becoming the "patron saint" of San Francisco firefighters, she made assisting and aiding the fire department a lifelong commitment. Take a tour of Coit Tower.
The first female chef in the United States to receive 3 Michelin stars with her restaurant Atelier Crenn, Dominique Crenn has helped elevate the Bay Area's dining scene to one of the finest in the world. Her highly-acclaimed wine bar, Bar Crenn, also received its first Michelin star, making this chef's establishments some of the hottest in the city. Uncompromising in her vision, with poetic menus and conceptual flavor profiles, she is now recognized for her steadfast dedication to who she is as both chef and business leader.
Vicki Manalo Draves
In 1948, Vicki Manalo Draves became the first woman to ever win two gold medals in a single Olympic Games. This San Francisco native was also the first Asian-American woman to win Olympic gold and the first American woman to win two gold medals for diving.
Born in San Francisco, Isadora Duncan is often noted as the "modern mother of dance", even though she lacked formal training. Her style of modern dance, more about free-form improvisation and artistic expression than perfect pirouettes, gained this Bay Area native a worldwide fan base for her fresh take on joyful movement.
At age 85, Feinstein is still currently serving her nation as a U.S. Senator. Her career in politics began in San Francisco, where she served as the city's first female mayor and was critical to the massive restoration of the city's cable car system.
Famous naturalist and conservationist Dian Fossey is best remembered for her work in the jungles of Africa, but her story began in San Francisco. From her early days working alongside noted anthropologist Louis Leakey until her untimely death, Fossey expanded our understanding of gorillas, their complex social lives, and the imminent threats they faced from human encroachment.
America's first female vice president is a Bay Area native! After being born and raised in the East Bay, Kamala Harris began her legal career here in San Francisco. She made her mark and was soon elected District Attorney, serving the city for eight years before successfully running for California Attorney General. She was the first person of color to hold either job. In 2016, she ran for the U.S. Senate and became the first woman of color to represent the Golden State as one of its senators. After campaigning herself during the 2020 primaries, Kamala Harris was selected by former vice president Joe Biden to be his running mate. The rest, as they say, is history!
Born in San Francisco, Bay Area rapper and hip hop artist MicahTron (pronounced Mee-kah-tron) paints a picture of her view of America through both her words and catchy dance beats. A fixture of San Francisco Pride celebrations, this openly queer artist has won a loyal following of fans for writing about her experiences as a woman of color, growing up in poverty, and her sexual identity. Fans of any background can identify with the truth she presents in her music, and her deft skill at weaving these experiences within the groove of her hip-swaying beats.
Renel Brooks Moon
She may have been born in Oakland, but Renel Brooks Moon will be forever associated with San Francisco. That's because, in addition to a long career in Bay Area radio, Renel has been the voice of Oracle Park for almost 20 years. She is only the second woman to ever hold the job of stadium public address announcer in Major League Baseball. (The first? Her predecessor with the Giants, Sherry Davis.)
Speaking of the Giants: did you know that the famous club also was the first to hire a woman to its coaching staff? An outstanding athlete in her own right, Alyssa Nakken is the first full-time female coach in Major League Baseball and the first to coach on the field during a game. She has been part of the Giants organization for years, starting as an intern in 2014.
A San Francisco native who became the first female licensed architect in California, Julia Morgan's legacy lives on in a number of buildings all over the Golden State. In her career, she worked for such titans as William Randolph Hearst. The ballroom bearing her name, which she designed, remains one of San Francisco's most coveted venues.
Current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi represents California's 12th Congressional District, which includes most of the city of San Francisco. An outspoken politician, Pelosi was a key representative who helped push through the Affordable Care Act and the 2010 Tax Relief Act, which helped stimulate the American economy after the 2009 recession.
Shakirah is a community organizer, educator, and writer whose work focuses on food equity. For Simley, ensuring equal access to quality food products can be the silver bullet for solving a community's woes, from health issues to economic struggles to environmental conditions.
Breanna Sinclaire, a classically trained opera singer, was the first transgender woman to sing the national anthem at a professional sporting event. She was born in Baltimore, but studied at and graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She has performed across the country, including at Carnegie Hall.
Alma de Bretteville Spreckels
Alma de Bretteville Spreckels is called the "great grandmother of San Francisco." Spreckels was a philanthropist who used her wealth and influence to amass one of the largest art collections in the country. Fun fact: she was the model for the statue atop Union Square's Dewey Monument.
Author of the best-selling novel, "The Joy Luck Club," author Amy Tan's San Francisco upbringing features heavily in the cultural exchanges, setting, and mother/daughter relationships found in her works. Tan has authored other best-selling novels, including "The Bonesetter's Daughter" and "The Valley of Amazement."
Just a quick drive across the Bay Bridge, Berkeley is where acclaimed chef Alice Waters made her mark with her legendary restaurant Chez Panisse, a temple to the slow food and locally-sourced culinary movements. Her reach now extends far beyond just her kitchens. Alice's vision brings healthy food to school children through the Chez Panisse Foundation, teaching young people how to grow, harvest, cook, and share food.