Women’s Transportation History: Helen Schultz, Bus Line Owner

In 1922, Helen Mary Schultz of Iowa launched the first woman-owned bus line. Her enterprise, Red Ball Transportation Company, came into existence at a time when bus services were steadily growing as a means of mobility in the United States.

Schultz, while working in various temporary jobs in California and Minnesota, closely observed motorized bus operations in those parts of the nation and quickly grasped the potential and popularity of this type of public transportation. After returning to her native Iowa, Schultz put into place her own bus line with a route between Charles City and Waterloo in the northeastern region of the Hawkeye State.

Over the next several years, Schultz managed to keep her transit enterprise intact despite a number of formidable challenges. These challenges included the struggle to secure and maintain sufficient capital for Red Ball Transportation Company’s services; fights with the state government over regulatory matters such as the licensing of routes for her vehicles; fierce opposition from railroad companies worried about her as a competitor; and the significant bias she had to overcome as a woman working in what was then a man’s world of bus operations.

Never one to shy away from a battle, Schultz took on the many difficulties that crossed her path with great aplomb and acumen.  She even leveraged the assumption that her gender was a liability into an asset, highlighting her role as a female trailblazer and becoming known nationwide as “Iowa’s Bus Queen.” By the time Schultz sold her business in 1930, her contributions as a transportation pioneer were well-established.

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