At RTS we are celebrating Women's History Month by bringing you stories of four courageous women who made strides in the transportation field. The women featured here helped to transform the ways we think about and use transportation. Their contributions have enhanced safety, passenger comfort, and overall efficiency in transit. In some cases, just their presence in transit made waves in the industry and paved the way for diversity in the workplace.
At a time when women still did not have the right to vote, Wilma Russey made history on January 1, 1915 when she became the first woman taxi driver in New York City. Not only was she a skilled driver, she was also an expert mechanic. She spent many years behind the wheel of her taxi, and thanks to Wilma women taxi drivers are very common in New York City and around the world.
Helen Schultz, was one of the earliest woman entrepreneurs in the Transit Industry. In 1922 and at only 26 years old, Helen was deemed the “Iowa Bus Queen” after founding the Red Ball Transportation Company. Her company provided interstate transportation by bus between Charles City and Waterloo, IA. Being a creative business woman, she marketed her service to Iowa’s women shoppers and traveling businessmen.
In 1979, Karen Harrison became the first women train driver in England. Her career journey was not an easy one: before conducting an interview, a British Rail recruiter mistakenly assumed Karen was a male and, upon finding out she wasn’t, urged her to apply for a secretarial position. Karen refused, and began working as the sole women driver for the company. After enduring ten years of harassment from co-workers and managers, she spent the second half of her career as an active union member and is known today as a trailblazer for women in the rail industry.
Olive Dennis became Baltimore & Ohio Railroad's engineer of service in 1920. She was responsible for many patents and designs that contributed to passenger comfort. Her designs were revolutionary at the time and are still used today. Some of Olive’s most notable contributions were the Dennis ventilator, dimming overhead lights, reclining individual seats, and creating stain-resistant upholstery. In addition, she was also the first female member of the American Railway Engineering Association.
Want to learn more about the history of women in transit? Check out the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Women in Transit History Collage.