The stereotype is that women are bad drivers. This stereotype no doubt got its start in the early days of the 20th century when motoring was thought of as a male pursuit.
But there were some pioneering women who thought it was all nonsense. A woman could operate an automobile just as well as a man.
Women were drawn to driving because
- It allowed rural women to get into town faster.
- They wanted to prove they could master a car just as easily as farm machinery or home appliances.
- It provided a sense of adventure and independence.
- They were family vehicles that could be used for travel.
Men had all sorts of objections to women drivers. They said women were too emotional to drive, that they wouldn’t be comfortable being alone in a vehicle. It was even suggested that cars were technologically challenging for a woman.
These objections were purely sexist as the first person to drive an automobile long distance was a woman, her husband being the Benz in the company today known as Mercedes-Benz. Bertha Benz drove 66 miles in 1886. It took slightly less than 12 hours.
By 1900, Karl Benz’s company was selling 600 cars annually, making it the largest automaker in the world.
Cost, of course, remained an issue for both men and women. In 1912, a Ford Model T cost $575. Only the most affluent women could afford to purchase their own car.
During the First World War, women drivers became heroines. Women were employed as ambulance drivers. They also took over men’s positions in public transportation.
Believe it or not, the first driver’s licenses were issued in the early 1900s. Compulsory testing started a few years earlier in some cities. Other areas required no testing at all.
Today, Saudi Arabia is the last country to forbid women to drive.
Images in Time
The following are images of women drivers in the 1910s.
When did you get your first driver’s license? Leave a comment below.
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