Highway Herstory American Women In Trucking
Today, only 5.2 percent of truck drivers are women. The U.S. Department of Labor still considers truck driving a nontraditional occupation. The job's autonomy, self-reliance, and adventure of traveling appeal to many people. April Halter, a truck driver for Pride Transportation, said, "We have a boss but forget a lot of time." The following stories will show you how some of America's most tough and grittiest women have walked and thrived on America's truck-driving roads.
We take a look at some pioneers and most famous women in American truck driving history in honor of National Women's History Month.
Stagecoaches and wagons were the first means of transporting freight. Annie Box Neal is famous for riding shotgun-literally alongside her husband William "Curly" Neal on his stagecoach delivery run through Tucson, Arizona, in 1892. She was 22 years old and was a skilled shotgunner. Her husband was frequently carrying gold bullion.
Mary Fields, also known as Stagecoach Mary, was the first Black woman to work for the U.S. Postal Service. At 60, she began her delivery route. She quickly gained a reputation as the most reliable and fastest delivery driver in Cascade. Fields was well-known for her ability to deliver inclement weather and protect herself on dangerous roads. Gary Cooper, an actor who Fields babysat as a boy, wrote in Ebony that Fields was "one of the freest souls to ever draw a breathe or a.38."
Calamity Jane Cannary claimed in her autobiography that she worked for Pony Express in 1876. She vividly describes the early experience of a freight-hauler.
"I was a pony express rider that carried the U.S. mail from Deadwood to Custer, over one of the most difficult trails in the Black Hills. My predecessors were held up and robbed from their mail, packages and money. This was the only way to get mail and money between these two points. Although it was the most dangerous route in Black Hills, my reputation as a quick-striker and rider was well-known meant that I was not molested much. The toll collectors viewed me as a good guy and knew I didn't miss my mark em>
Being a "Man's Job."
Luella Bates was one of six women selected to demonstrate the ease with which the Four Wheel Drive Corporation's new truck steering can be used.
Lillie Drennan, a female truck driver, became the first female to be licensed in 1929. She also founded the Drennan Truck Line (Texas) which was the first trucking company owned by a woman. The company was operated by Drennan for 24 years, and she had an excellent safety record.
Although few women wore uniforms other than nurses' whites at the beginning of World War II there were over 25 million serving in the US military by 1945. Rusty Dow, an Alaska highway pioneer, was known for her work with the Quartermaster Corps during World War II as a truck and mail driver.
America's Last Pioneers
Dow was the first woman to drive a freight load across Alaska in a Studebaker 6x6 in 1944, just after completion of the Alaskan Military Highway. Despite the fact that many of the war-time and annuls were driven by women, Dow's account shows that women were frequently seen as intruders. Dow, who had been a truck driver all her life, ran a trucking and transfer company near Anchorage, Alaska. Yet, she wrote that "this was a man’s job on a men’s road, built entirely by men."
Women had already been driving trucks for years before Dow. Both World Wars I and II saw women take over truck driving jobs that were previously held by men. Farms were producing plenty of food to support the war effort at the beginning of WWII. Due to a shortage of laborers, thousands were recruited and quickly trained to manage the harvest and deliver shipments of fruit, grain, and hay across the country. Between 1939 and 1945, nearly half of all truck drivers were women.
Before becoming a star actress, Della Resse was a truck driver and other odd jobs to support her family. Bea Arthur was a truck driver for the Marines between 1943 and 1945 before becoming a "Golden Girl!"
Only Members Club
Marlene Marling is well-known for her thirty-five years of trucking on America's highways, with no accidents since 1959. Marling was attracted to this environment, which could still be very sexist. She loved the idea of traveling and wanted to do something new. Marling loved to claim that she could do the job just as well as any man. Marling describes the disbelief and shock felt by other drivers and travelers every time she stopped to refuel. As oil and trucking companies joined hands to improve truck stops, they went from being military-style barracks into actual places to rest. Marling was one of the first members of the Pure Oil Road King Drivers Club. This club was supported by Road King magazine and the Pure Oil Petroleum Company.
Maggie Peterson was the first woman to be named Driver of the Month (twice) in California by the California Trucking Association. She has since become a spokesperson for women working in the trucking industry. She is a champion for both women truck drivers and the entire trucking industry.
Today's Trucking Women
Many associations exist today that support and encourage women in trucking. Modern women truck drivers are driven by the same reasons their forefathers did, but also for new opportunities and reasons. Shannon Sputter Smith was always interested in being a truck driver as a child. In a 2012 O Magazine article, Smith was highlighted. It stated, "When you're driving a long-haul truck, you are in an entirely different zone. A shared space that transcends the rhythms and routines of traveling, commuting, and visiting."
Young couples see this opportunity as a way of enhancing their relationship and traveling together. Halter said that she and her husband feel like they're doing their own thing. They set their own schedules and travel together to new states. Overdrive Magazine also has a "Most Beautiful" contest to encourage women in trucking.
Television has been a great way to showcase women in trucking. "Shipping Wars" features independent movers who bid on unusual or large loads and "Ice Road Truckers," which transport cargo over some of the most dangerous roads in the country. Jessica, from "Shipping Wars," has a reputation for using determination and unconventional ideas to beat her more experienced counterparts.
Maya, Ice Road Trucker, said that "when you get into trucking being a woman it's very hard." Lisa and Maya view themselves as role models. Maya said, "I believe women and girls will say, You know what, you can do this'." The first year will be the most difficult in your life, but it does get easier every day.
Rusty Dow was on her 1944 trek when Rusty heard one man tell another that if it became so tame that women could drive it, then it was time to move on. It's easy to see that women will continue to be involved in trucking with the help of their ancestors Annie and Mary, and role models such as Maya and Lisa.
"Well-behaved females rarely make history. " -Laurel Ulrich, Pulitzer-Prize-winning professor of history at Harvard University