Speed: Towards a Collective Biography of Brooklands Women, 1907-1939

Dr Jean Williams (De Montfort University)
28 November 2011


(taken from SPOT Newsletter Blog Post 17 January 2012)
Very little has been written on the history of motor racing, which is quite an unexpected omission.  Even less has been said about women motor racers at the turn of the century such as Bertha Benz the first person to drive a motor car over a long distance: her drive took her from Mannheim to Pforzheim which is approximately 180km.  Or how about Duchess Anne d’Uzès the first European woman to pass a driving test in 1898?  Ironically, Duchess Anne d’Uzès broke the record books again one month later when she became the first person to be caught speeding!  Then there is Camille du Gast a pioneering racing driver whom Dr Jean Williams claims as deserving of a paper in her own right. 
Without a strong presence in historical writings these women and others like them have been left largely ignored.  Jean Williams attempts to de-mythologize these women racers through the use of biography. Williams does this through the example of the Brooklands race track in Surrey which allowed women more leeway than elsewhere at the beginning of the 20th century.  Case studies include that of Kay Petre and Mary Bruce.  Both these women were fascinated with speed and not only raced motor cars but also became involved in aviation.  They represent a growing national consciousness and fascination with ‘dangerous’ sports involving technologically advanced vehicles.  Williams paper therefore helps to raise awareness of this gap in the historical literature and begins to rediscover a lost part of our motor racing heritage. 

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