Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard

Women Drivers in the Edwardian Era

In the course of researching my historical romantic thriller, The Beauty Doctor, I learned about an interesting little book, The Woman and the Car: A Chatty Little Handbook for All Women Who Motor or Who Want to Motor, written in 1909 by Dorothy Levitt. Not being terribly mechanically-minded, I am always a bit intimidated by scenes that require me to know a little something about how these old cars work! The Woman and the Car explains a lot of that in language that is easy to understand, but more than that it is a window into the era and a wonderful portrait of a fascinating Englishwoman (Dorothy Levitt) who led quite an exciting life which included winning the Championship of the Seas (a great motor boat race at Trouville, France) and creating the world’s speed record for women motor car drivers (91 miles per hour in 1906). Her book is a delightful read with wonderful photographs. Here are a few small excerpts:

“An all-important question is dress. Automobilists are nowadays more careful in the choice of their attire, but there are still a goodly number who seem to imagine it is impossible to look anything but hideous when in an automobile…As regards a frock—the plain “tailor-made” with a shirt blouse of linen, silk or “Viyella” is without a doubt the most comfortable—and the wearer has the advantage, at the end of the day’s run, of appearing trim and neat. Under no circumstances wear lace or “fluffy” adjuncts to your toilette—if you do, you will regret them before you have driven half a dozen miles.”

“[The] little drawer [under the seat of the car] is the secret of the dainty motorist. What you put in it depends upon your tastes, but the following articles are what I advise you to have in its recesses. A pair of clean gloves, an extra handkerchief, clean veil, powder-puff (unless you despise them), hair-pins and ordinary pins, a hand mirror—some chocolates are very soothing, sometimes!”

“If you are going to drive alone in the highways and byways it might be advisable to carry a small revolver…While I have never had occasion to use it on the road…it is nevertheless a comfort to know that should the occasion arise I have the means of defending myself. If you are driving alone a dog is great company. The majority of dogs like motors and soon get into the habit of curling up on the seat by your side, under your coat.”

She does get quite a bit into the mechanics of the car as well, and she strongly advocates being prepared to service your own car on the road. She even has an “overall” that she wears over her regular clothing should the need for roadside tinkering arise!

You can actually purchase a Kindle edition of this book on Amazon.

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In the spring of 1907, Abigail Platford finds herself unexpectedly adrift in New York City. Penniless and full of self-doubt, she has abandoned her dream of someday attending medical school and becoming a doctor like her late father. Instead, she takes a minor position in the office of Dr. Franklin Rome, hoping at least to maintain contact with the world of medicine that fascinates her. She soon learns that the handsome and sophisticated Dr. Rome is one of a rare new breed of so-called beauty doctors who chisel noses, pin back ears, trim eyelids and inject wrinkles with paraffin. At first skeptical, she begins to open her mind, and then her heart, to Dr. Rome. But when his partnership with an eccentric collector of human oddities raises troubling questions, Abigail becomes ensnared in a web of treachery that challenges her most cherished beliefs about a doctor’s sacred duty and threatens to destroy all she loves.


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2 thoughts on “Women Drivers in the Edwardian Era”

  1. ET says:

    Thank you for posting about such a fascinating woman, Dorothy Levit. It is easy to forget how many strong and powerful women helped create the present as we now know it. Reading your blog is like taking a time travel machine back to when cars were this amazing new invention! I especially love learning about keeping chocolates under the seat in the car 🙂

    1. Elizabeth Bernard says:

      Yes, I can relate to the chocolates! And the dog on the front seat—though my black Lab, Pearly Mae, requires the entire back seat. Thanks for your comment!

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