Women’s History Month. Auto Independence for Women.
2016 I take for granted that I can get in my car any time of day or night, and go pretty much anywhere the roads go. Living in Tucson, Arizona means I can drive in any direction for hundreds, even thousands of miles.
As early as 1898, Genevera Delphine Mudge and Daisy Post drove electric vehicles, not bothering to get a driver’s license. There were admonitions, and sometimes physical opposition stating that a woman’s disposition, physical makeup and abilities were too weak to drive a car, ( It might lead to mental instability). Worse yet, she would neglect household duties. Despite this, women took to automobiles to widen their circle of social life and influence.
Writers Emily Post and Edith Wharton found driving adventurous and useful. Edith Wharton wrote one of the earliest travel books about an automobile journey, A Motor Flight Through France 1908. Emily Post wrote By Motor to the Golden Gate after she drove from New York to San Francisco in 1915 to visit the Panama-Pacific Exposition.
Driving a car offered women the scope for engaging in the wider world politically as well. A hundred years ago, Alice Burke and Neil Richardson, “Suffrage Autoists,” covered 10,700 miles giving suffrage speeches in “the byways where suffrage orators are seldom heard.” Their car was called the “Golden Flyer.” The photo above shows them starting on a cross-country trip on April 6, 1916.
Thank you, Edith Wharton and Emily Post, not only for driving, but for writing about it. Thank you, Alice Burke and Neil Richardson, not only for driving, but for speaking out.
An automotive independence photo that is closer to home —five young women grouped around an old 1934 Ford. One of the women is my mother, Gladys Berberich Erickson.
In 1939 these young women, teachers at Drew Seminary in Carmel, New York, heard about a good second-hand car available for fifty dollars. They gathered the funds and bought it.
It was unusual for a young woman to have a college education in those days, and to be teaching. It was probably unusual for five women to undertake the investment they did in those days too.
They named the car “Pegasus.” Like the Pegasus of Greek mythology, this Pegasus had wings to take the young teachers on weekend adventures.
More unusual for me than my mother having a career was the realization that she had had her driver’s license, as did two of the other teachers. They were independent beyond my imaginings. The photo reminds me of women who pioneered activities for independence that are part my everyday life.
These women continued to be ahead of their time, even financially. They eventually sold Pegasus for seventy-five dollars—making a financial profit to split amongst them.
Thank you, Pegasus owners, for banding together to achieve a goal.
Pegasus photo Ethel Lee-Miller. Pictured: as listed in the 1939-40 Drew Faculty program: Carmel Benson—Math and Chemistry; Gladys Berberich—Latin; Martha Crowley—English; Norma Harvester—History; Agnes Hyatt—Piano Harmony and Organ
Miss Richardson and Mrs. A.S. Burke. Photo by Bain News Service, 1916 April 6.
Seedlings, Stories of Relationships – “Pegasus “ Ethel Lee-Miller ©2014