The Life and History of Lillie Drennan

How She Helped Pave the Road for Women Truckers of Today

March is Women’s History Month, and we’re celebrating past victories and future successes of women in the trucking industry! This blog post will introduce you to Lillie Drennan, the woman who helped pave the road for female truckers.

Meeting Lillie Drennan

When she was born in Galveston, Texas in 1897, nobody could have predicted that little Lillie would go on to become the first licensed female truck driver and first female trucking firm owner. In 1919, after losing most of her hearing as a result of scarlet fever, she married Willard Ernest Drennan. Together they started the Drennan Truck line in March of 1928. Her husband drove their first truck, a Model-T Ford. When business became too much for him to handle, they purchased a Chevrolet for her to drive. Then they hired other employees.

The Drennan Truck Line

In 1929, Lillie divorced her husband and took sole ownership of the Drennan Truck Line. The Railroad Commission was in charge of regulating motor-freight at this time, and they awarded her with a truck driving license – but not without a fight. They claimed that her hearing loss presented a safety issue. Lillie, however, believed that it was blatant sexism. She challenged them to find a man with a better record on the road than she had. When they couldn’t find one, she was awarded her license.

Today, women can (and do) find work in a variety of different roles in the trucking industry. Women can be drivers, work in dispatch, or be owner-operators. Many women find great success in becoming truck mechanics, running trucking schools, or even design future truck models. In 2007, Ellen Voie founded Women In Trucking, a nonprofit organization that encourages and promotes women working in the trucking industry.

picture of a yellow road sign with bold black letters that read 'safety first' against a blue sky

A Reputation for Safety and Management

Lillie Drennan was highly regarded as being the safest driver on the road. In her 24 years driving motor-freight, she never had a single accident, even though she drove for up to 48 hours with very little sleep. Most of her employees were African American, and she insisted on training each one of them herself.

Today, safety standards have improved, and will only continue to do so. Changes to Hours of Service and electronic logbooks have been hot topics in recent years. Another example is the change in truck cab design. Recent data has shown that the design and size of the truck cab can not only impact driver comfort but it also impacts the safety of truckers and other drivers on the road. Truck manufacturers today are creating truck cabs that offer increased visibility, better fitting seat belts, and easier entry to accommodate the increase in the diversity of ethnic groups and the percentage of women working in this industry.

A Truck-Sized Personality

The first woman truck driver was known for something other than her driving ability. Lillie was known to have a unique personality. She regularly wore khaki pants, work boots, and a ten-gallon hat. She never went anywhere without a loaded revolver. And she was especially well known for her cursing. Which, when criticized, she was known to say “Me and God have an understanding.

Lillie Drennan is still remembered as a pioneer for women, especially for women who desire to work in fields that are male-dominated. She faced adversity and sexism and is still remembered as one of the safest drivers on the road.

Follow in Her Footsteps!

Whether you want to drive OTR, stay local, or are inspired to start your own trucking company like Lillie, you’ll need your CDL. Going through CDL training gives students the skills, knowledge, experience, and confidence needed to pass the CDL exam and begin successful careers. 

Get your Minnesota CDL license at Heavy Metal Truck Training. Start by taking our free online CDL practice tests, and then give us a call to see how easy it is to get your CDL license in Minnesota! We train students of all skill levels – from very beginner driver to the advanced driver that wants a refresher – and have various programs for each. We also provide job placement assistance and a network of people in the same industry so you have the best chance for success in your new career.