Tribute to Women who Paved the Way in Transportation


With March being Women’s History Month, it is only appropriate for us to highlight women’s significant role in the trucking industry, an industry thought of as predominantly male. Although males may hold the majority of trucking jobs, women influencers have been leaving their marks on transportation for years, going back as far as the 1800’s.

While researching how women have shaped the trucking industry, these women consistently popped up.

Mary Fields (1832-1914)

Mary Fields, born into slavery, was the first female mail carrier to run Star Route in the United States. The Star Route consisted of independent contractors that used stagecoaches to deliver mail. This was no easy task as thieves and bandits often confronted them. Mary’s courage and fearlessness equipped her for the job, as well as the rifle over her shoulder and a .38 revolver under her apron. Although Mary posed a tough demeanor, she was also loved by her community for her kindness and generosity. “Stagecoach Mary,” as she was nicknamed, was an encouragement to other women wanting to participate in transportation.

Luella Bates (1897-1985)

Luella Bates was the first female truck driver in United States history. It all began at the onset of World War I when Four Wheel Drive, a company in Clintonville, Wisconsin, hired 150 women to test drive vehicles, and Luella was one of them. This was meant to be just a temporary position to fill in for men away at war. But Bates ability to maneuver trucks and her master mechanical skills, afforded her a permanent position with the company even after the war ended. As an employee, Luella went on tours to state fairs and auto shows where she demonstrated the company’s four-wheel-drive trucks. The U.S. Department of Transportation commented that the idea behind these press opps was to show the world that the truck was so easy to steer, even a women could drive it. Luella was a pioneer in opening the way for other women to take their place behind the wheel of the big rigs.

Lillie Elizabeth Drennan (1897-1974)

According to Texas State Historical Association, Lillie Drennan was the first woman to hold a CDL License in Texas and the first woman to own her own trucking company. Drennan Truck Lines operated successfully under her direction for twenty-four years. Being at the height of the oil boom in 1928, she took the risk of hauling highly explosive material such as TNT and dynamite. Drennan braved this industry and fought hard against gender and bias in transportation.

Lois Cooper (1931-2014) and Marilyn Jorgenson Reece (1926-2004)

Lois Cooper and Marilyn Reece are two women who helped push the transportation industry forward outside of driving long hauls. Lois Cooper was the first female African American to be hired in the California Department of Transportation Engineering Department. She managed to pass the Professional Engineers Exam and went on to be the director of the First Diamond Lane, the predecessor to carpool lanes. She was an acute mathematician, advocate for STEM education and fought hard for Civil Rights.

In 1954 Marilyn Reece became California’s first female civil engineer for the state’s Division of Highways. She designed the I-10/405 interchange, which is now named after her. She also contributed to the construction of I-605 Freeway, the I-210 extension, and the I-105 Century Freeway.

Adriesue “Bitsy” Gomez (1940-2015)

Adriesue Gomez developed a love for trucks at an early age and went on to pursue her dream to be a professional truck driver. Although she loved her job, she witnessed firsthand discrimination in the transportation sector. Thus, she fought hard and challenged the sexism by forming in 1970 the Coalition of Women Truck Drivers. Throughout her life, she stayed committed to making the trucking industry safer and more inclusive for women.

Due to the efforts and commitment of these mentioned women, along with many others, doors of opportunities have opened for women to build successful careers in the transportation industry. Today, WIT Index reports that an average 12.1% of overall professional drivers who have CDLs to drive heavy duty trucks are female. In addition, WIT Index states that 43.5% of overall dispatchers are women. Women’s multi-tasking and organization skills, as well as their safe driving records, have helped make significant strides in the trucking industry.

Thank you to all the women who have dedicated their lives to making the world of transportation safe and rewarding.