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Drennan carved the road for women truckers

By: Holley Young

Holley Young

I graduated from the University of Alabama with a major in Public Relations and a double minor in General Business and Computer Technology. After college, I joined the Randall-Reilly team as a Web Relations Coordinator. With a passion for writing, my job here seems more like a hobby.



Although the road may have been bumpy, Lillie Elizabeth Drennan overcame adversity to become known as the industry’s first woman truck driver. For nearly 24 years, Lillie operated Drennan Truck Line, while all along the way withstanding much disapproval from those who believed a woman had no place behind the wheel of a tractor trailer. This didn’t discourage her though. Lillie was determined to prove herself in an industry full of men. Even with a hearing impediment, Lillie had an impressive and long career that is still recognized today.

Woman Truck Driver

Without the Lillie Drennan’s perseverance through adversity, women truckers like this would not be where they are today.

In 1897, Lillie was born in Galveston, Texas. Upon birth, Lillie was given up for adoption and three weeks later was taken into the home of Francis Carolyn (Fannie, Grannie) Nichols McGee. In just the fifth grade, Lillie dropped out of school. At the age of 15 in 1912, she married William Barney Jackson, whom she divorced two short years later. By the age of 22, Lillie had lost most of her ability to hear, which was most likely a result of suffering from scarlet fever a few years earlier.

In 1917, Lillie married Willard Earnest Drennan. Together, the couple started Drennan Truck Line in March 1928. 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 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 beat my record, I’ll just get out of here.”

The challenge was not met, and Lillie operated Drennan Truck Line until she sold the company in 1952. Throughout the years, Lillie hauled oilfield equipment, explosives, soft drinks and general freight throughout East Texas. It was not uncommon for Lillie to drive over forty-eight hour stretches with little to no sleep or rest, while supposedly never having an accident. 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 safety awards from the Railroad Commission and the Texas Motor Transport Association.

Lillie’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 served as a role model for women. Fueled by hard work and determination, Lillie showed women that anything is possible, even in a man’s world.

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