Time Machine

Time Machine: When this Marion woman lost her job in the Depression, she started her own cab company

Mary Snyder also loved to share stories of childhood friend Mamie, who became first lady Eisenhower

This Gazette clipping from Feb. 21, 1937, shows Mary Snyder (left) and Anne Jordan, who operated the Mari-An Taxi compan
This Gazette clipping from Feb. 21, 1937, shows Mary Snyder (left) and Anne Jordan, who operated the Mari-An Taxi company in Marion in the 1930s and ’40s. (Gazette archives)
/

Marion cabdriver Mary Snyder grew up in Cedar Rapids and loved to tell about her kindergarten days at Jackson Elementary where she and Mamie Dowd were friends and had tea parties together. Mamie would grow up to marry Dwight D. Eisenhower and become the nation’s first lady in 1953.

When the Great Depression hit, Snyder lost her job at the Ford garage in Marion.

When she couldn’t find another job, she decided to go into business for herself. She owned a car, so she applied for a chauffeur’s license and turned her car into a taxi in 1932.

She soon partnered with Anne Jordan, and the pair formed the independent Mari-An Cab. Co. with their two vehicles. The name reflected their names and not Marion, as some assumed.

They did well enough to buy their own office building at 623 12th St. in Marion.

The women did not confine their taxi fares to Marion, or even Iowa.

In 1937, Jordan told a reporter, she and Jordan had “made trips to Nebraska, Des Moines, Minneapolis and one trip to the World’s Fair in Chicago.”

Marion’s train depot welcomed two passenger trains a day at the time, and one of Mari-An’s cabs was always there to meet them.

Being prepared

Snyder and Jordan noted that women passengers were delighted to have a woman cabdriver. Men seemed to be surprised. Were they nervous being alone with male passengers?

“No,” Snyder said. “I always kept a rolling pin and a box of red pepper under my car seat. I was left-handed, so I could drive with my right hand and reach the rolling pin and pepper box with my left.”

Jordan said she was once frightened when she had picked up a nighttime fare. The man wanted a ride into Cedar Rapids and started talking about how he knew the notorious gangster John Dillinger, calling him a “fine fellow.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

The two women each logged about 45,000 miles a year in their taxis. Jordan retired in 1942 and moved to Orange, Calif. Snyder continued driving the remaining Mari-An cab.

In 1954, Clyde Dawson began running four cabs out of his Black and White Co., two of them driven by owners. The two companies were exclusive in Marion. Cedar Rapids cab companies were barred from operating out of Marion. They were allowed only to drop off passengers at the Milwaukee depot.

Snyder added school bus driving to her repertoire, hauling kids for St. Joseph’s parochial school in the mornings, starting at 7:45 a.m. Someone else took the afternoon routes.

She suffered a stroke in 1958, landing her in Mercy Hospital for eight weeks before she went back to driving her cab.

Seeing Mamie

When President Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower were in Linn County in 1958 for the National Cornpicking Contest, the first lady visited Jackson School in Cedar Rapids, which she had attended in 1903.

Mamie Eisenhower had sent a note to Snyder saying she was sorry she wouldn’t have time for a visit while in Iowa.

Snyder decided to go see her childhood friend anyway. When Mamie emerged from Jackson, Snyder was there with other former schoolmates to shake her hand. Snyder also thanked Mamie for a photo the first lady had sent when Snyder had been hospitalized.

Cab stolen

In 1961, Snyder’s taxi was taken from her at gunpoint. It was found four days later in Arkansas.

Snyder had picked up a man in Marion who wanted a ride to Winthrop, about 35 miles to the north in Buchanan County. When they arrived, the man forced Snyder out of the cab. He then drove the cab to a farm where he had worked to pick up his belongings, then drove to Minnesota and South Dakota before heading to Arkansas.

When Snyder finally got her taxi back Feb. 17, she said it “was in good condition. He had even changed the oil.” He also put 1,374 miles on the cab.

Other women drivers

Other women cabdrivers in Cedar Rapids included Mrs. George Whitlacil in 1943 and Mrs. Jack Bliss in 1958. Both women got into cab driving through their husbands.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

After driving a cab for 32 years, Snyder sold Mari-An Taxi to S.F. Techau in 1964, and the name was changed in 1966 to Tecks Taxi.

Snyder suffered two more strokes, though she remained active, living out the rest of her life at Winslow House Care Center in Marion, entertaining the residents by playing her harmonica and telling tales of her life as an Iowa taxi driver. She died June 24, 1978, at age 84.

Comments: d.fannonlangton@gmail.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.