Who invented the stripes on our roads?

When we are driving our cars or riding public transit, we most likely do not give much thought to the stripes on the roads. We take them for granted to keep us in line and at a safe distance from the cars alongside us or those coming in the opposite direction. These stripes were not part of the infrastructure in the early twentieth century. Until 1924, there was little separating Model T Fords on two lane roads from other cars and horse and buggies. It was a gun-toting woman doctor, the incredible Dr. June McCarroll, who came up with a “brilliant” idea to improve road safety.

One evening in 1917, after visiting a patient and driving home in her model T Ford, a large truck roared toward McCarroll in the center of the pavement and forced her off the road into the sand. In her own words: “My Model T Ford and I found ourselves face to face with a truck on the paved highway. It did not take me long to choose between a sandy berth to the right and a ten-ton truck to the left!” This was not McCarroll’s first experience of narrow escapes with cars and trucks especially while riding her horse and buggy. She was also seeing many more patients who were suffering from injuries that resulted from automobile accidents.

McCarroll knew there had to be a better way. Why not a line down the road? She presented her idea to the California Riverside County Board of Supervisors and the local Chamber of Commerce. They were polite and listened to her every word, but they courteously rebuffed her idea and quietly shelved it.

McCarroll was tenacious. In her long dress and a bonnet, she got down on her hands and knees and “painted” a 4-inch wide stripe down the middle of US Highway 99, which ran in front of her home to create two separate lanes. There are varying accounts of how she did this, and the most noted one is that she painted a two-mile long strip. Another version is that she used baking flour and striped a mile-long white line down the middle of the road. This most likely was the first stripe in Riverside County, the state, and probably in the United States. She then launched a letter writing campaign and distributed petitions to the state and county to incorporate the use of lines down all county and state highways. This effort continued for seven years without any success until McCarroll organized an Indio Women’s Club. The Club then received support from the County, District, and State Federations of Women’s Clubs. She petitioned the California State Legislature to ratify a law authorizing the California Highway Commission to stripe all state roads. When the legislators recognized that thousands of women club members backed this legislation, and women could now vote, they quickly passed the law to mandate that all roads and highways be painted with a dividing stripe. This amazing doctor added inventor after her name and has been credited with saving thousands of lives and improving the safety of the roads.

The community of Coachella Valley has honored her in a touching way. They requested that a portion of Interstate 10 between Jefferson Street and Indio Boulevard be dedicated as the Dr. June McCarroll Memorial Freeway. The legislation was passed in 2000, and the dedication took place on April 24, 2002. In addition, a bronze plaque attached to a six-foot-high concrete pillar in Indio was erected in her honor and dedicated in October 2003.

Dr. June McCarroll was a fascinating women and an exceptional doctor. Let me share one other piece of information about her. In 1907, the Bureau of Indian Affairs appointed her as the first doctor to care for hundreds of thousands of Cahuilla Indians living on five tribal reservations, a massive area that spanned from the Salton Sea to Palm Springs. The Indian medicine men regarded her as the “white medicine man” and highly respected her as she saved the lives of thousands of children from a devastating measles epidemic.

To learn more about other remarkable women who contributed to the growth of the newly created state of California you can always check out Women Trailblazers of California: Pioneers to the Present.

Please share your thoughts~~Hannah

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