Sue Macy’s Motor Girls: How Women Took the Wheel and Drove Boldly Into the Twentieth Century caught my attention right away because I would have been a great target audience for this book when I was in the target audience age. It’s audience is an upper elementary school audience and what a perfect audience that is for a book like this. I would have LOVED this book at that age because I was the only girl I knew who watched Motorsports on a regular basis. Also back then I loved a good library and read well above grade level. It was not uncommon during the summer for me to library’s non-fiction section and pick a subject and read all the books about that particular subject. I would have likely been drawn to the fact that this was about women and cars…and I liked cars and the publisher was National Geographic. However even as an adult I loved this book and was fascinated at the history of women and the automobile as I read.
These days it’s more common than not to drive a car. If you saw me driving my Chevy Equinox down the road you wouldn’t give me a second glance unless it was to try to figure out my vanity plate: TSTEW(heart symbol) or to try to figure out what the stickers in my back window say/mean. The fact that I was a woman driving a car wouldn’t be a big deal. But back when the “horseless carriages” were being first engineered, produced and then mass produced this the idea of a woman driving was a major deal.
Macy does an excellent job marrying the history of women in the United States (and other countries a little bit) during the turn of the century and the history of the automobile. The book starts off with the invention of the horseless carriage and a quick history lesson about how the “horseless carriage” would be developed into what would become the automobile. Early horseless carriages barely resemble today’s modern cars. Most were open wheeled, open carriages that mostly resembled horse carriages- only with out the horse. They exposed drivers and riders to all the elements and dirty of the road. There weren’t windshield and cushy formed seats and air conditioning of the cars of today. They were rare and often shared the road with their horse-drawn cousins. As the technology of the automobile at the turn of the century (along with the industrial revolution hallmark of the assembly line) they became more common. It was becoming easier for people to travel greater distances. However it soon became a question if such a masculine pursuit of driving an automobile was even suited to the feminine persuasion. Women at the turn of the century were considered delicate and feeble and feminine and common thought was that a woman could not stand the physical rigors required to pilot a car long distances, nor was it believed they had the mental acuity to deal with things like traffic or the very freedom that the automobile could afford someone.
“The pleasure of speed is rather an obscure sensation, yet it is quite agreeable.” Cammille du Gast in “Women as Motorists,” Technical World Magazine, September 1906 as quoted on page 59 of Motor Girls by Sue Macy.
Yes that was the mindset back then. Macy does well going into detail with evidence as to why this was the common thought of the area and how turn of the century American women slowly worked to prove these all to be myths. There are many photos and illustrations of cars in the era, advertisements, and insets for specific Motor Girls- detailing that woman’s particular contribution to the automobile. Interesting fun fact? Did you know that the windshield wiper was invented by a woman in 1903? If you didn’t you should definitely read page 36′s inset about Mary Anderson. These Motor Girl insets are also accompanied by highlighted quotes through out the book about women and cars that were timely.
Of course my favorite chapter was chapter 4- all about early Motorsports and Joan Newton Cuneo and how women were soon banished from competing in races that weren’t exhibition races or time trials. Of course the race fan in me loved this chapter! And it didn’t hurt that the forward of the book was written by none other than Danica Patrick. There is also a nod towards more current women racers in the epilogue. Of course the race fan in me wanted more about the women racers but that’s another book for another day.
Overall I think this is a wonderful book for children because of the history of the automobile and women (and women’s rights). I recommend this book to anyone (or anyone with a child) who might be interested in Motorsports, automobiles or history.
About the Author: Sue Macy is the author of many books (including six for National Geographic), blogs and even museum exhibits most about sports and women’s history. You can read more about her on her website SueMacy.com or follow her on Twitter @suemacy1
For Full-Disclosure purposes (I am looking at you FTC): I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. However the opinions and words in this review are my own (except where quoted from the book). As always no books were harmed in the reading or writing of this review.
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