Despite the truck driver stereotype, women have been present within the trucking industry since the very beginning. These women have not only fulfilled their duties day-in and day-out, but have paved the way for future generations of female truck drivers. Recent research from American Trucking Associations (ATA) shows nearly 7% of long-haul drivers are women.1 And while that’s a relatively small percentage, that number is expected to grow as more women steer toward the trucking industry for a chosen career path.
The first licensed female truck driver in the U.S. was Luella Bates. She was one of the first women hired by the Four Wheel Drive Auto Co. (FWDAC) during World War I. Due to Bates’ stellar driving record, she was the only woman kept by FWDAC when the war was over. “Our Girl Driver,” — as she was referred to in many publications — was a demo driver for FWDAC, touring a model B truck all over the country to showcase and exhibit how the truck’s steering was so smooth, “even a woman can steer it.” Bates was such a sensation at the time that she was featured in a May 1920 issue of Popular Science and referred to as “Exhibit A for feminine efficiency”2 in reference to her driving skills.
During both World Wars, women entered the workforce with many climbing into the driver seat to keep America running. Before her acting career, Bea Arthur was a truck driver and dispatcher at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina during World War II2. Singer and actor, Della Reese, hauled produce from Detroit to Toledo after hearing that truck drivers made more money than cab drivers — her job title at the time.3
Lillie Elizabeth McGee Drennan was the first female to hold a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in the state of Texas. She also ran Drennan Truck Line, the first female- owned and -operated truck fleet in the state. She withstood opposition from men in the trucking industry who felt women did not have the resilience to manage a truck fleet; Drennan ran her fleet for a quarter century despite the pushback she received. Known for her unparalleled driver safety record, Drennan won awards from the Railroad Commission and the Texas Motor Transportation Association — the latter having her show off her skills at their “Roadeo” in 1950.4
Known for her “brash Chicago accent, a sailor’s grasp of creative swear words, and a pistol at her side,” Adrisue “Bitsy” Gomez was the face of the 1970’s feminist movement within the trucking industry. Gomez created the Coalition of Women Truck Drivers — a 150-member organization that fought against discrimination and sexism within the trucking industry. Without the coalition and their fearless leader Gomez, loading docks might still display “MEN ONLY” signs.5
Recent surveys from ATA and Women in Trucking Association shows us that the number of women in all sectors of the trucking industry are growing at a steady pace year after year. A new wave of women are turning to the trucking industry in search of a position where hard workers reap the rewards of travel, freedom, being your own boss, and earning more than minimum wage.
Outside of the driver’s seat, women accounted for one out of every four executives across all market segments of trucking companies.6 Even those who don’t want an over-the-road life can still be a part of the dynamic trucking industry!
The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) revealed a 2018 study that, despite stereotypes, women are not only good truck drivers but in some cases are safer on the road than many of their male counterparts. The ATRI study suggests consistency of good safety practices among women truck drivers has led to an increase in fleet safety programs managed by women.7 In fact, close to half of all fleet safety programs in the trucking industry are managed by women! There is no denying that women are an important part of trucking, bringing positive changes to nearly every aspect of the industry.
If congress passes the re-introduced Women In Trucking Workforce Act, it will require the Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to establish an advisory board focused solely on creating more opportunities for women in the trucking industry, while also addressing the current driver shortage. The bill was read twice in congress earlier this year before being sent to the Committee of Commerce, Science & Transportation for further discussion. If passed, the advisory board will work in tandem with the Women in Trucking Association to identify opportunities to increase the number of women in the trucking industry.8
1 ATA American Trucking Trends 2020
2 "She's a Truck-Driver". Popular Science: 37. May 1920.
3 “Bea Arthur Was a Truck-Driving Marine.” The Smoking Gun, The Smoking Gun, 12 Nov. 2010, Bea Arthur Was A Truck-Driving Marine
4 YouTube, Visionary Project, 22 Mar. 2010, Della Reese: I was a Truck Driver
5 Lucko, Paul M. “Drennan, Lillie Elizabeth MCGEE (1897–1974).” Handbook of Texas, Texas State Historical Association, 1 Dec. 1994, TSHA | Drennan, Lillie Elizabeth McGee
6 “The Sexes: Women Truckers.” TIME, 26 Apr. 1976, pp. 100–100.
7 2019 Freightwaves & Women In Trucking Association Survey pg. 11