Who Says Girls Can’t Repair Cars? Check Out These Amazing Photographs Of Women Auto Mechanics From The Early 20th Century
Women began finding work when World War I began in 1914; they had to take the jobs of men who had gone to war. A wide range of jobs needed filling. Automotive machines were in large production around this time to supply the United States and other countries with vehicles for war. This was the start of women playing important roles in the automotive industry.
Not all women on the front lines were part of the military though; many were volunteers offering their help to medical services such as the Red Cross. This woman served as an ambulance driver with the Voluntary Aid Detachment, an offshoot of the Red Cross. Unlike most ambulance drivers, though, those who operated the vehicles on the front lines had to know how to repair and service their cars, as you see this woman doing in this image by Ernest Brooks shot in 1916.
British ambulance drivers near the Front in France, 1916.
Margaret Whittemore and Margery Rose changing a tire on their car in 1916 during a tour for suffrage. They drove 10,000 miles with stops in New Orleans, LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, and small towns along the way.
A female mechanic reclines under a car while performing repairs to the vehicle, 1917.
A member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) starts up the engine of her ambulance at Etaples, France, on 27 June 1917.
VAD’s of the Motor Convoy cleaning cars at bade in Etaples. The ambulances were donated by the Canadian Red Cross. January 1918.
A female driver lies on the ground as she works on a wheel with a spanner during WWI.
Driver of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry cranking up an ambulance during WWI.
Women’s suffrage gained support during World War I. Due to shortage of manpower domestically, women worked in nontraditional jobs and demonstrated willingness and ability to move beyond prescribed gender roles. Under Carrie Chapman Catt’s leadership, NAWSA secured President Wilson’s backing in 1916, which he gave partly in recognition of women’s war efforts.
Kitty Brunell works on a Singer Junior 848 cc at the Monte Carlo Rally, January 1928.
Flapper under a car, ca. 1920s.
A photo of Rosalie Jones as an auto salesman, ca. 1920s. Brave enough to do what she wanted at a time when it would have been very difficult.
Kitty Brunell tunes up her AC Ace Sports engine, 1932. Kitty was known as a rally driver and would be the only woman ever to win the British RAC Rally, in 1933. She never raced competitively at any track, but did use Brooklands for tuning and circuit testing her car.
Mom fixes the family car, ca. 1940s.
A ‘Wren’ – a woman from the Women’s Royal Naval Service – works as a mechanic, c. 1939 – 1945. Her hat appears to read ‘H.M.S. Daedalus’.
A motor transport driver from the Women’s Royal Navy Service (WREN’s), repairing the engine of her car. 28th January 1943.
Women garage attendants at the Atlantic Refining Company. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 1943.
Princess – later Queen – Elizabeth was a truck mechanic in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, March 1945.
An ATS girl smoking a Woodbine while working on a Humber during WWII.
The Throttle Queens prepare for a drag race in 1956.
Girls fixing their car, ca. 1950s.