Celebrating women in automotive history (Pt. 2)

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1955 AMC Rambler American brochure interior.

The 1955 AMC Nash Rambler, featuring designs by Helene Rother. (Photo Credit: Public Domain/American Motors/Wikipedia)

Welcome back to this selected glance at important women in automotive history. Let’s continue our look at female innovators, inventors and activists. CLICK HERE if you missed the beginning of this article.

Florence Lawrence: Silent film star, auto innovator

Silent film actress Florence Lawrence came up with the idea for two of the most indispensable innovations in the history of automotive safety. After purchasing her first car in 1913, Lawrence decided it would be a good idea for hers or any vehicle to have a signaling arm to indicate intent to turn the car.

“A car to me is something that is almost human, something that responds to kindness, understanding and care, just as people do,” said Lawrence, who showed off her driving skill in many of her films and encouraged women to take up driving.

In addition to a turn signal device, Lawrence also invented a mechanical stop sign that would swing out when the driver stepped on the brake pedal. Unfortunately, Lawrence was unable to patent either this or the turn signal idea, both of which were soon snatched up by men in the automotive industry.

Female ambulance drivers in WWI

During the early years of World War I, women frequently drove ambulances in France and Britain for the Red Cross. U.S. women who performed this duty include writer Gertrude Stein, who lived for much of her life as an expatriate. Since the ambulances were whatever vehicles the drivers could obtain, Stein had her aunt send a Ford Model T from New York.

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Wilma Russey was the first female hack

New Year’s Eve merry-maker Wilma Russey, arrayed in leopard-skin hat and mink stole, got behind the wheel of a car in 1915 and became the first female New York City taxi driver. She delivered passengers to their desired destinations, and reportedly received good tips. Stories suggest that Russey was an expert automotive mechanic, too.

Suffering for suffrage hits the road

In 1916, Alice Burke and Nell Richardson demonstrated on behalf of women’s suffrage in the U.S. To illustrate that women had the right and could drive just as well as men, the duo went on a seven-month, 10,700-mile road trip around the country to champion voting rights for women.

Helene Rother designs the cars we drive

A French jewelry designer, Helene Rother was hired by General Motors in 1943 to fashion elegant interior designs for its cars. As such, Rother became the very first female automotive designer. She worked for GM for four years, before joining Nash-Kevinator (part of what is Chrysler today) from 1948 through 1956. “Irresistible glamor on wheels” is what one reviewer called Rother’s designs.

In 1951, Rother became the first woman to deliver an address to the Society of Automotive Engineers. She received the Jackson Medal for design excellence.

CLICK HERE for a brief history of some of the most significant women in automotive history when it comes to racing.

Sources

Antique Automobile Club of America

CompareAutoInsurance.com: http://www.compareautoinsurance.com/top-10-female-race-car-drivers/

Esurance

Road & Travel Magazine

The Selvedge Yard: http://theselvedgeyard.wordpress.com/2009/09/29/fast-women-in-history-auto-racings-tough-female-pioneers/


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