Commercial truck driving is a historically male-dominated industry, with women comprising only 5.1% of today’s truck-driving workforce. It’s a tough job, requiring extensive CDL training, finely-honed skills, and physical strength. But as history shows, women who are determined to succeed in this industry are unstoppable.
Truck-driving Women Who Made History
- Luella Bates (1897-1985) – During a time when women were expected to be homemakers, Luella refused to be restrained by tradition. She joined the labor force during WWI, driving trucks for Four Wheel Drive Auto Company in Wisconsin. After the war most women were fired, but Luella was so good at her job that she remained employed as a driver. She was also charismatic, using spectacle to promote Four Wheel Drive’s line of commercial and fire trucks. This bold pioneer paved the way for other women by achieving mastery in a field previously thought to be the exclusive domain of men.
- Lillie Elizabeth McGee Drennan (1897-1974) – Known for her signature ten-gallon hat, loaded revolver, and tendency to curse, Lillie was truly a force to be reckoned with. She owned and ran the Drennan Truck Line, and in 1929 she became the first woman to be granted a CDL after successfully suing the Railroad Commission for “sex bias.” This lawsuit set the legal precedent against sexual discrimination in the trucking industry.
- Adriesue “Bitsy” Gomez (1943-2015) – Described as a “gear-jamming gal with white-line fever,” Bitsy founded the Coalition of Women Truck Drivers. Using their influence and the courts, they challenged the sexist practices and attitudes pervasive in the truck driving industry at the time, and encouraged more women to take on CDL training.
- Recruiting more women – Thanks to pioneers like Luella, Lillie, and Bitsy, modern trucking companies are making big changes to attract female drivers. Carriers are offering more practice time in truck driving simulators, female driver liasons, internal support groups, and classes on sexual harassment awareness and self-defense.
- Support Networks – Organizations such as Women In Trucking and REAL Women in Trucking, Inc provide support, job listings, and the opportunity to connect with other female truck drivers.
- Female-friendly trucks – Ryder System Inc. has redesigned their cabs to be more ergonomic or women, with adjusted seat height and more accessible placement of handles and gauges.
The trucking industry still has a long way to go to achieve gender equality, but thanks to bold, capable women past and present, the future looks bright. For every woman who obtains her Class A CDL, another will be inspired to enroll in truck driver training.