Luella Bates: The first female truck driver
Women are not new to the transportation of freight; women working as truck drivers are merely modern-day female freight movers and they have been present for nearly a century yet rarely recognized.
Do you know who the first long-distance truck driver was? Or more importantly, their gender? We often hear that trucking is a ‘man’s world’ and that women have no right being behind the wheel of such a large vehicle, yet the first long-distance truck driver was a woman. In fact, the first six truck drivers were all women, although they were only there to demonstrate how easy it was to drive one of these new vehicles, and they did only weigh three tons – mere babies in today’s trucking world.
They were difficult to drive, however. There were no air brakes, power steering or automatic gearboxes, and the roads were nothing more than tracks by today’s standards. Women have been important, and at times controversial, figures in trucking from the very beginning. These days, you will find thousands of women driving trucks along the highways, and despite the harsh conditions, many of them are opting for over-the-road truck driving. According to many employers, women truckers are better workers – they have an innate ability to keep to schedules and follow directions. I guess there is a little less of the ‘cowboy’ (or cowgirl) in a female driver. The first licensed woman truck driver Was Luella Bates. Born on October 17, 1897.
During WW1 she was a test driver for the Four Wheel Drive Auto Company. She traveled throughout the state of Wisconsin in a Model B truck.
After the war and when many women left the workforce, Bates remained at the Four Wheel Drive Company.
In January 1920, Bates traveled to New York for the New York Auto Show, where she met Secretary of State Francis Hugo.
Bates was the first woman truck driver to receive a license in New York. That is 98 years ago, and this woman had the courage to venture into truck driving. This tells us that women have stayed long in the trucking industry. Women were among the pioneer drivers of trucks. If this woman, Bates could receive her license as far back as 98 years ago, how much more of the modern women who are also actively involved in the trucking industry.
In 1920, Bates was sent on her first interstate tour as a part of an advertising campaign for FWD and Francis Hugo’s Safety First Campaign.
She visited 25 towns, beginning in Kansas City and completed her tour in Bellefontaine, Ohio.
In May 1920, Popular Science magazine called Bates “exhibit A for feminine efficiency.”
In addition to being a driver, Bates was also considered an expert mechanic.
Whilst that makes for interesting trivia, what is important is the fact that trucking truly is an equal opportunity workforce. Women are paid exactly the same rate as men, are treated the same, and in most cases, are offered the same work as male drivers. If you’re a woman who is sitting at home suffering from ’empty nest’ syndrome, give serious thought to truck driving. It only takes five weeks of truck driver training to gain a commercial driver’s license, and from there, the roads are yours to cruise.
This woman has inspired so many female truck drivers today and she is still inspiring them. She definitely needs to be remembered whenever the history of truck driving is told.
Women play a critical role in the future of trucking and it’s time for the true history of the women in trucking to be revealed. These are not pretty fairy tales and we are still very far away from having a happy ending