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November 6: The Speed-Demon Motorina

November 6, 2013
Dorothy_Levitt_Frontspiece_to_The_Woman_and_the_CarDorothy Elizabeth Levitt, a car racer described as “The Fastest Girl on Earth” (she held world records for both car and speedboat velocity), was fined five pounds on this date in 1903 for speeding in Hyde Park. Levitt was famous as a pioneering “lady” driver, journalist, and activist. She taught Her Majesty Queen Alexandra how to drive, and she invented the rear-view mirror when she wrote in 1909 (in The Woman and the Car: A Chatty Little Handbook for All Women Who Motor or Who Want to Motor) that women should “carry a little hand-mirror in a convenient place when driving” in order to “hold the mirror aloft from time to time in order to see behind while driving in traffic.” (Manufacturers did not introduce a fixed rear-view mirror until 1914.) Levitt also advised women to carry handguns when traveling alone. In 1905, she established the record for the longest drive achieved by a women (London to Liverpool and back in two days), and also set the Ladies World Land speed record, which she upped in 1906 to 90.88 mph. The statement by the police in court said that she had driven at a “terrific pace” and told the officer who pulled her over that she “would like to drive over every policeman and wished she had run over the sergeant and killed him.” A well-known horsewoman before she took to cars, Levitt was described as a “bachelor girl,” never married, and dedicated herself to the empowerment of women until her death in 1922. Dorothy_Levitt_driving_a_Napier_at_Brighton_July_1905-postcard-WC-pd“There is a feeling of flying through space. I never think of the danger. That sort of thing won’t do. But I know it is omnipresent. The slightest touch of the hand and the car swerves, and swerves are usually fatal. But I am a good gambler, and always willing to take the chance. In going that pace, the hardest thing is to keep in the car. Half the time the wheels don’t touch the ground at all, and when they do touch you must be prepared to take the shock and lurch, else out you will go. It is far harder work to sit in the car than to ride a galloping horse over the jumps in a steeplechase. When I made the records I was in the car alone. I prefer it.” —Dorothy Levitt