Lillie Drennan, a trailblazer for women in trucking
In honor of women’s history month and our own fearless female leader here at K&J, we wanted to recognize Lillie Elizabeth McGee Drennan, a pioneer who helped pave the way for women in trucking.
In March of 1928, Lillie and her husband started Drennan Truck Line with a single open-cab Ford Model T truck. Later that year, they bought their second truck, a closed-cab Chevrolet, which Lillie drove.
At the time, women were rarely seen in the workforce, let alone the trucking industry and it wasn’t easy for Lillie to convince the supervisors of the motor-freight business in Texas, the Railroad Commission, to give her a license. Not only was she a woman, but Lillie had lost most of her hearing as a young adult from a case of scarlet fever.
But Lillie didn’t back down, citing discrimination based on her gender and challenging that, “If any man can beat my record, I’ll just get out of here.” The Commission finally conceded, and Lillie became the first woman in Texas to receive her commercial driver’s license!
First woman in the U.S. to own a truck line
That same year, Lillie and her husband divorced, and Lillie became the sole owner of Drennan Truck Line, making her the first woman in the United States to own a trucking firm. Lillie ran Drennan Truck Line for almost 24 years, withstanding overt criticism and opposition simply for being a woman.
customer service is key
Like we do at K&J, Lillie recognized the importance of timely delivery in ensuring customer satisfaction and building a successful business. By setting schedules for shipments and making sure that her drivers were able to make their deliveries on time, she prioritized efficiency. Lillie trained her drivers herself, most of whom were black men, and led by example by putting in the hard work alongside her employees.
safety is a priority
Lillie never had an accident, despite sometimes driving 48-hour stretches with little sleep or rest. While there are regulations in place now limiting the number of hours a driver can operate a truck safely, Lillie’s feat was quite impressive!
The Railroad Commission and the Texas Motor Transportation Association (of which she was a member) celebrated Lillie’s record with safety awards. In September of 1950, she was even asked to demonstrate her driving skills at the Texas Motor Transport Association "Roadeo" obstacle course at the state fairgrounds in Dallas.
she got people's attention
Lillie’s colorful personality was well-known. She ran her company with an iron fist and her signature ten-gallon hat, khaki pants and shirt, laced work boots... and the loaded revolver she kept by her side when she drove, although she swears she never used it.
Throughout her life, Lillie was featured in periodicals, newspapers, and radio broadcasts. The Los Angeles Times hailed Lillie as a “dry land Tugboat Annie” when she visited Hollywood in 1943. And in 1946, a trucking publication described Lillie as "a twentieth-century pioneer who has all the color of an Annie Oakley, and who lives the life of a hard-hitting frontiers-woman."
Lillie lectured students at Prairie View A&M College (now Prairie View A&M University) about her experiences in trucking, and even entered into negations with a production company to develop a movie based on her life, but it never came to fruition. During WWII, Lillie’s successful efforts to recruit women truck drivers for the quartermaster corps were praised by the US Army.
her legacy lives on
Lillie’s pioneering spirit and dedication to trucking has had a lasting impact on both women truck drivers and trucking in general. Her perseverance against the adversity she faced as a woman in a male-dominated industry continues to inspire women to this day.
Along with the many other women who have contributed to the transportation industry, we honor and thank Lillie Elizabeth McGee Drennan for her hard work blazing the trail. K&J is the proud home to many female truck drivers. And if you are a woman ready to take the wheel, like Lillie, we would love to speak with you!