Friday, August 22, 2014

Lillie Drennan - The first licensed female truck driver

Written by Valerie

Lillie Drennan was not only the first licensed female truck driver, she also was the first female trucking firm owner in the United States who against all odds conquered an entirely different frontier—a male dominated trucking industry.

In 1897, Lillie was born in Galveston, Texas. At three weeks of age, Lillie’s mother gave her up for adoption and Lillie became the foster daughter of Francis Carolyn (Fannie, Grannie) Nichols McGee of Hempstead. Lillie dropped out of school after completing the fifth grade. At fifteen years old she married William Barney Jackson on December 18, 1912; the couples had a son but were divorced in June 1914.

At the age of twenty-two she lost most of her hearing ability as a result of the scarlet fever that she suffered. At that same age Lillie married Willard Ernest Drennan with whom she started the Drennan Truck Line in March 1928, in Hempstead, Texas. The company’s first truck was a used, open-cab Model-T Ford that was driven by her husband. As business began to grow, a closed-cab Chevrolet truck was purchased for Lillie, and additional drivers were hired.

By 1929, the couple divorced, and Lillie became the sole owner of Drennan Truck Line. In the same year, Lillie also won the right to operate her own truck and received her commercial truck driver’s license when the Railroad Commission began regulating the motor-freight business. Because of her hearing impairment, commission examiners hesitated to approve her license. Not convinced that this wasn’t sex bias, Lillie challenged the commission saying “If any man can beat my record, I’ll just get out of here.” Lillie operated Drennan Truck Line until she sold the company in 1952
During her 24 years behind the wheel, Lillie Drennan overcame the unfair practices and sexist opposition of her competitors. Lillie hauled oilfield equipment, explosives, soft drinks and general freight throughout East Texas. She hired mostly African-American drivers and insisted on training them herself. And although she regularly drove more than 48 hours with little sleep, Lillie never had an accident.

Specialists recognized the driving and managing skills that she demonstrated at the Drennan Truck Line. In 1946, Joe Carrington, a well-known insurance carrier in Texas, stated that he knew of “no other truck owner” who had a safety record comparable to Lillie’s. During her long career, Lillie received many safety awards from the Railroad Commission and the Texas Motor Transport Association.

Lillie Drennan’s colorful personality did not go unnoticed by others. Lillie was known to always to be attired in khaki pants, a shirt, laced work boots and ten-gallon hat, while never forgetting her loaded revolver when she drove. According to the Texas State Historical Association, “She insisted upon training every driver she hired; she sometimes kicked her employees in the seat of their pants and threatened, in her foghorn voice, to ‘pistol-whip’ or ‘brain them with an iron bar’ for violating her rules. When criticized for her cursing, she responded, ‘Me and God have an understanding.’”

All the while, Lillie was gaining national recognition from numerous media outlets. She appeared in periodicals, newspapers, and on radio broadcasts. In 1943, the Los Angeles Times recognized her as a modern day “dry land Tugboat Annie.” In the same year, she divorced her third husband, S. B. Boulware. Not long after, Hempstead News dedicated a special oversized edition to her for being an independent woman, calling her “a twentieth-century pioneer who has all the color of an Annie Oakley, and who lives the life of a hard-hitting frontiers-woman.”

On September 10, 1974, Lillie passed away and was buried in Hempstead Cemetery. Throughout her life, Lillie Drennan served as a role model for women. Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates nearly 200,000 women truckers and freight entrepreneurs are in the industry. Fueled by hard work and determination, Lillie showed women that anything is possible, even in a man’s world.

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