History of Women in the Trucking Industry
Historically speaking, truck driving had been a male-dominated profession. However, the trucking landscape is rapidly changing, welcoming more women into the workforce. Over the last few decades, women have ventured and succeeded in various careers in transportation - from truck driving to sales and management.
To honor Women’s History Month, it's important to reflect on the path that was paved by some of the amazing women who pioneered deep roots in the trucking industry.
The First African American Female Driver
Mary Fields became the first African American woman to work for the United States postal service in 1892, at the age of 60. She drove a team of six horses in Montana and was known for her fiery temperament and passion for good cigars. Having overcome seemingly insurmountable barriers as a black woman in the late 19th century breaking into the transportation industry, Mary Fields is an inspiration to the African American community and the women who followed in her footsteps.
The First Woman to Drive Coast-to-Coast
Alice Huyler Ramsey was the first woman to drive from New York to California in 1909. At the young age of 22, she embarked on a journey that became a historical event. Ramsey drove a four-cylinder Maxwell DA for the total of 59 days and had covered over 3,800 miles. At a time when women were discouraged from driving, Ramsey publicly uprooted the standard. In 1960, she was named "Woman Motorist of the Century" by the American Automobile Association (AAA).
The First Female Truck Driver
Luella Bates started her career in transportation in 1918 when she was hired by Four Wheel Drive Auto Co. in Clintonville, WI, where she test drove Model B trucks. After World War I, Bates continued her career in trucking, and became the first female truck driver to travel interstate and receive a commercial driver’s license in the state of New York in 1920. Her New York trip inspired three other transcontinental tours across the nation, making a name for herself as a demonstrator for Model B trucks, and even newly assembled fire trucks.
The First Woman to Own a Trucking Company
Lillie Elizabeth Drennan was the first female driver to receive a commercial driver’s license in the state of Texas in 1929. Later that year, Drennan became the first woman to ever own a trucking company, Drennan Truck Lines. With her wit and passion for trucking, Drennan had an outstanding reputation for training and hiring female drivers and for maintaining an impeccable, award-winning safety record. When the Railroad Commission began supervising Texan motor-freight businesses, and questioned Lillie's abilities, she shrewdly replied, "If any man can beat my [driving] record, I'll just get out of here." No man was able to beat her driving record.
The First Woman to Drive the Alaska Highway
Rusty Dow was the first female truck driver to conquer the entire length of the Alaska Highway in 1944. She worked for the U.S Army Engineers in the Alaska Defense Command during World War II. Despite the many skeptics who refused to believe that a woman could accomplish a "man's" job, she proved she was more than tough enough. It took her only 7 days to drive 1,532 miles, deliver necessary cargo, and to return home. The challenging Alaskan terrain, snow storms, and poor visibility didn't slow her down.
The First Female UPS Driver
Mazie Lanham became the first woman to drive for UPS in 1943. As World War II raged, the UPS began hiring women, who soon dominated operations and deliveries. Playing off of the men who worked for the UPS being known as the "Brown Buddies", she became the first member of the “Brown Betties” delivery team and paved the way for women in the package delivery industry. Lanham inspired the women around her to continue their careers as UPS drivers, and opened the doors for other women to do the same in the following decades.
Though it was not easy, these women proved their strength on and off the road. As the trucking industry continues to grow more diverse, we can now look back and recognize their achievements that paved the path for the modern woman truck driver. Today, there are thousands of women following in the footsteps of these pioneers, honoring their work, strength, and spirit.