In honor of Women’s History Month, we want to commemorate two significant women who played major roles in shaping the logistics industry for women – Luella Bates and Lillie Elizabeth McGee Drennan. These two broke social norms and became the first ever women truck drivers in a male dominated field.
Luella Bates began her trucking career during World War 1 and worked for Four Wheel Drive Auto Co. from 1918 to 1922. She obtained her driver’s license in January 1920 and became the first female truck driver. She was also one of the earliest truck drivers as well. After the war ended, she was the only woman to stay employed by the company.
During her time at Four Wheel Drive Auto Co., she was a driver and a demonstrator. Luella traveled across many parts of the country to showcase the capabilities of the Model B truck and the newly developed fire trucks. She drove across various terrains and in various conditions. One time, she drove across a flooded road while hauling meat to a packaging plant which led to an increase in sales for the company.
Luella had a lot of experience driving trucks and her knowledge about them was extensive. She became extremely aware of the repairs and improvements that were needed. Since this was still the early stages of truck development, she would often perform the maintenance herself. This allowed her to give demonstrations on the proper maintenance and care for trucks as well. Around the same time Luella was doing all of this, another woman was also leaving her mark on the transportation world.
Lillie Drennan along with her husband, William Ernest Drennan, started their own trucking company, Drennan Truck Lines, in 1917. To help grow the business, she began driving her own truck and obtained her commercial truck-driver’s license in the 1920’s around the same time as Luella Bates.
While Lillie was trying to receive her license, the Railroad Commission began supervising freight businesses and almost didn’t grant her it. They claimed it was because they were concerned about her hearing impairment, but Lillie suspected it was gender bias. She had a perfect driving record and was never in an accident. She told the commission that “If any man can beat my record I’ll just get out of here”. Of course, they could not argue with her results and granted her license.
In 1929, Lillie and her husband divorced, and she became the sole owner of Drennan Truck Line. She continued to drive and was very proud of her driving record. She took trips all over Texas and would sometimes go 48 hours without any sleep and never had an accident. Lillie was extremely strict when it came to safety and she held all the drivers who worked for her to the same standard. This led her to receive multiple safety awards during her years in the industry.
Luella Bates and Lillie Drennan have both been credited with being the first female truck drivers. They both had a huge impact for women in transportation and women in the workforce. Despite being told to leave their jobs after World War 1, they stayed and continued to have very successful careers.