Women in Transportation History: Elizabeth Dole, 1st Female US Transportation Secretary

In 1983, Elizabeth “Liddy” Dole was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve as the eighth U.S. secretary of transportation. She was the first woman to serve in the role.

Dole’s accomplishments as secretary of transportation included facilitating the transfer of control of Washington National (now Ronald Regan National) Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport from the Federal Aviation Administration to an independent regional authority. She also oversaw the privatization of the federally subsidized railroad Conrail.

Dole’s tenure at the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) was also defined by various transportation safety initiatives. These initiatives included working with groups such as the nonprofit organization MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) to reduce drunk and drugged driving nationwide; promoting increased seat belt usage by the public, and; providing incentives for manufacturers to install airbags in new automobiles. Dole also strongly championed the installation of center high-mounted brake lights on new automobiles as a key safety measure. These lights, which were mandated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, became widely known as “Liddy Lights.”

When Elizabeth Dole resigned as secretary of transportation in 1987 to help her husband Bob Dole run for president, Reagan highlighted her contributions to safety. “Because of your personal emphasis on transportation safety, it is now a national priority,” stated Reagan in his letter accepting her resignation. “Countless lives have been saved and crippling injuries prevented on our highways, railroads, and in the air because of your leadership.”

In the time since leaving USDOT, Dole has also served as U.S. Secretary of Labor under President George H.W. Bush; president of the American Red Cross; and a U.S. senator from North Carolina.

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