Women of Trucking HERstory

Women are not new to the transportation of freight; women working as truck drivers are merely modern day female freight movers and they have been present for nearly a century yet rarely recognized.

LuellaBatesLuella Bates drove a class B truck for the Four Wheel Drive Auto, Company from 1918 -1922 in Clintonville, Wisconsin. She was the first licensed woman truck driver.

Lillie Elizabeth McGee Drennan is often credited as the first licensed female truck driver. Lillie was given up for adoption shortly after her 1897 birth in Texas. She had only a fifth grade education when she married at the age of 15 and became a Mother; she was divorced 2 years later.

Lillie married and divorced twice more in her lifetime. During her second marriage she was introduced to the business of trucking. She eventually became a truck driver and the sole owner of the Drennan Truck Line.

Lillie had a hearing impairment that threatened her being granted a license by the regulatory commission of her day. According to the Texas State Historical Association, Lillie perceived “sex bias” as a factor rather than her hearing ability presenting a safety risk. She argued her case successfully and was granted her commercial truck-driver’s license in 1929.

Women working as truck drivers during WWII were not uncommon according to Adriesue “Bitzy” Gomez, a female trucking pioneer that has been lost in trucking history. She says that women were encouraged to take up male-dominated jobs during the 1940’s war efforts but after the war, the women were expected to get back in the kitchen. During the 1960’s, the sexual revolution heated up the equality issues in the workplace, many which remain today.

It is hardly recognized now that it was Bitzy and the 1970’s Coalition of Women Truck Drivers, a 150 member group that organized to fight hiring discrimination and sexual misconduct in trucking companies that paved the way to modern day recruitment campaigns that encourage women to apply for truck driving jobs.

While we know that women make excellent and conscientious professional commercial drivers, we are now also becoming aware that past EEOC discrimination cases brought by courageous women truckers like Bitzy created hiring mandates.

Unfortunately for women entering trucking in 2014, the problem known as the “Sleeper Test” from Bitzy’s era has not been resolved. Male trainers and co-drivers continue to coerce badger and/or force sex from female drivers. The “put out or get out” mentality is alive and well in many larger truck driver training carriers and sadly some female students do “put out” wrongly believing it is the only way to get a passing grade for a commercial driver’s license.

Education is imperative for women entering trucking and women that are already in the industry both as drivers and as related support personnel to improve retention numbers but all too often the women in trucking work against one another.

Whether these women are well intentioned but powerless, on a prima donna power trip, feeling as though since SHE has become a qualified driver and has not encountered obstacles that SHE has no one to thank and does not need to help anyone in the future. We should not view this as an achievement for women, these are not trucking heroines.

The women in the trucking industry, as with women around the world that are struggling for very basic rights must recognize that to truly “REPRESENT” something awesome it takes great courage. The courage to speak up and not back stab, to refrain from gossip, to stop “accommodating” and acting like you need to apologize for being a woman in a male dominated industry. Women need to learn compassion and understand that just because YOU did not experience harm, it is not a license to attack those that have.

The REAL Women in Trucking, Inc. vision is to unite women truckers that have the desire to help others that are struggling just as the Coalition of Women Truckers did in the 1970’s.

It is true that the majority of men welcome women to the industry, although it is not uncommon to be shouted down or told to go home and bake cookies on a regular basis. Still, there remains a greater problem, unaccountable sexual misconduct which seems to thrive in government subsidized truck driver training carriers. This problem is most frequently reported from trainees where the “team business” model is practiced and/or lease truck programs during training are pushed. (CR England, CRST Van Expedited, New Prime, Inc. and Covenant Transport)

“It is unreasonable to require a woman to team truck drive with a man as a requirement for employment” ~ Quote from Adriesue “Bitzy” Gomez

Women play a critical role in the future of trucking and it’s time for the true history of the women in trucking to be revealed. These are not pretty fairy tales and we are still very far away from having a happy ending

Additional Reading: Women Truckers Organize Against Male Counterparts

TIME Magazine April 26, 1976 : The Sexes – Women Truckers PDF
Woman’s World Magazine May 1977 : Keep on Truckin’ Part 1 PDF
Woman’s World Magazine May 1977 : Keep on Truckin’ Part 2 PDF

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This article was written by: RealWomenTruckers

To deliver highway safety through leadership, mentorship, education , and advocacy.

  1. 4 Comments

    • Eunice says:

      Great story I started in 1979 cross country and I can assure you I saw hardly another female driver out there. As I laid down 3 mil. miles as an owner operator I saw more and more out there.

    • Donna says:

      I started in 1974. Taught myself, fought for myself. Still driving and I still love it. I always said I should write a book…but who would read it? I love that story and a flood of memories come back. It was a struggle but I wouldn’t give up. If I couldn’t do what the guys were doing, I shouldn’t be out there, but I could do it…and better in a lot of cases! I always believed that the driver and the truck represented the company and the product. Hammer down!

      • Hi Donna,

        Thank you for your comment. I think a lot of people would read your story and I encourage you to take the time to write about your experiences and preserve them as a historical record for not only future drivers but your family. You may be surprised how valuable and inspirational your life has been to others.

        Desiree

    • Barbara Funk says:

      Wow i started in the latec70’s and i remembercwell. I thank you and you shall hear from me when i sit diwn and write my stories. I want to encourage all women to seek your own path.