It was John Steinbeck who first named Route 66 the “Mother Road”–all 2,400 miles of it from Chicago to Los Angeles. But it was thousands of travelers—and a popular television show—that made it America’s most famous highway. Mostly, we think of Route 66 as the journey of two young men, played by Martin Milner and George Maharis, in a Chevrolet Corvette convertible.
But men weren’t the only ones attracted to the lure of the road. Women, too, found new life and new adventures along Route 66. That’s what “The Women on the Mother Road: Route 66” is capturing.
The National Park Service and the non-profit Cinefemme are partnering to create an online historical record of women and girls along the Mother Road. They already have a website and there are plans for a documentary. As the website notes: “Writer and project director Katrina Parks says she was surprised by the diverse ways in which women’s lives intersected with the road, from the pioneering female architects who designed buildings along Route 66 to waitresses, shopkeepers, postmasters and others who kept daily life humming.”
She found that artist and photographer Dorothea Lange traveled part of the route through Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and California during the 1930s to capture the struggles of migrant farm families. She has found stories of Mexican and Chinese immigrants who opened businesses along the route. She also found the “threads of discrimination, determination, adventure and perseverance” that run through the women’s stories.
“We realized that Route 66, as a symbol of America, had the potential to tell so many deeper stories,” says Kaisa Barthuli of the National Park Service. “It’s about pulling out these lesser known stories that really help people connect and understand our history.”
The project covers the route’s history from its inception in 1926 to its demise in 1985 and then to its ongoing rebirth. The profiles are listed by state, covering Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona and California.
Readers can share this journey with the many women profiled in the oral history project on the website www.route66women.com. Or google “Women of the Mother Road” for more stories.