With the ongoing focus on women in 2021, it’s interesting to see how attitudes have changed over the years. Take this early commentary on female drivers for example:
‘To command such a monster demands a woman who has steady nerves. These noisy big fellows make so much bluster as they speed along that timid women would be thrown into a chronic state of prostration.’
This fascinating statement appeared in a best-selling book* in 1909 when cars and electric trams were still something of a novelty for most people. It continues:
‘The tension of the nerves sends the blood in quicker circulation, thus bringing the red colour to the cheeks and adding radiance to the eyes. It is regretted that this healthy glowing vivacity is hidden by the thick swathes of veils and big owl-eyed goggles which are worn by women drivers to protect their delicate complexion.’
Some readers may find this style of writing amusing today, while others may consider it sexist and inflammatory. However, if you assume it was written by an insensitive male you’d be wrong. It was actually written by a pioneering feminist, author, and successful racing driver.
Dorothy Elizabeth Levitt, born 5th January, 1882, was the first female racing driver in Great Britain. She was also holder of the world’s first water speed record, the women’s world land speed record holder, and successful author. She was an early pioneer for female independence and female motoring, even teaching Queen Alexandra and the Royal Princesses how to drive.
Of course, attitudes and writing styles change over time. Fast forward to a more contemporary article and attitudes sound surprisingly upbeat:
‘Women have proved that they can take their places in practically every walk of life. Everywhere we find women occupying important positions in the professional and commercial world. In many of the motor car speed and reliability tests, women drivers and mechanics are prominent.’
Readers will be forgiven for assuming this statement is recent, but it actually appeared 87 years ago, in 1934**. Women certainly occupy important positions in the professional and commercial world today, but female drivers and mechanics are a rare sight at race tracks in the new roaring twenties, so what went wrong? The Brisbane Tramway Museum may provide an insight.
Tram restoration is challenging work. Mechanical parts are invariably big and heavy, badly rusted, disgustingly greasy, or all of the above, so it’s hardly surprising that the workshops are not buzzing with female mechanics; in fact, there are none at all. So, what about female tram drivers? Again, there are none. However, there were a significant number of female conductors when trams plied the busy streets of Brisbane. Sadly, there are no female trammies at the museum today, but the new Ferny Grove ‘She Shed’ may encourage more women to climb aboard. Will we ever see Queensland’s first female tram driver? Time will tell, but that’s just the ticket I’d queue for…
For more information regarding the Brisbane Tramway Museum visit www.brisbanetramwaymuseum.org
The Brisbane Tramway Museum is proudly sponsored by the Brisbane City Council.
* From – The Woman And The Car, Dorothy Levitt, 1909.
** From – Let’s Drive Better than Men, Mary Arnold (1934 edition).