A chatty little handbook for all women who motor or who want to motor

Dorothy Levitt’s The Woman and the Car: A chatty little handbook for all women who motor or who want to motor by Dorothy Levitt, was published in 1909.  It perfectly captures the adventurous, even reckless, spirit of these early girl racers. Here is a short extract from one of the first driving manuals, written by a woman for other women.


Starting a Car – In the front you will notice a handle. Push it inwards until you feel it fit into a notch, then pull it sharply, releasing your hold of the handle the minute you feel you have pulled it over the resisting point. On no account press down on the handle, always pull it upwards smartly. It if is pressed down the possibility of backfire is greater – and a broken arm may result. 

Changing Speed – In changing speed always remember to throttle slightly. Never change from first to top speed without using the intermediate speed. The first speed on these little cars is 0–9 miles an hour, the second is 9–18 and the top is 18–28. I should advise you to thoroughly get used to the steering while on second speed. Bear in mind that when riding or driving a horse, it is only partly under your control, as it has a brain. With a motor-car, you are on your own. 

The Mirror – The mirror should be fairly large to be really useful and it is better to have one with a handle. Just before starting take the glass out of the little drawer and put it into the little flap pocket of the car. You will find it useful to have handy, not only for personal use, but too occasionally hold up to see what is behind you. 

Motor Manners – Pedestrians, according to the law, practically own the highways. Dogs, chickens and other domestic animals at large are not pedestrians, and if one is driving at regular speed one is not responsible for their untimely end. It is advisable to drive slowly through town and villages and especially school houses. Drive slowly past anyone driving or riding a horse and if a lady or child is on top, stop the engine. It is an act of courtesy. Do not fail to sound the hooter and slacken speed when coming to a cross road. Never take a sharp corner at full speed. Never drive the engine downhill. Do not leave the engine running when stopping outside a house. 

Self-defence – If you are going to drive alone in the highways and byways it might be advisable to carry a small revolver. I have an automatic ‘Colt’, and find it very easy to handle as there is practically no recoil – a great consideration to a woman. 

What to Wear – An all important question is dress. With an open car, neatness and comfort are essential. Under no circumstance wear lace or fluffy adjuncts to your toilet. There is nothing like a thick frieze, homespun or tweed coat lined with fur. Do not heed the cry, ‘nothing like leather.’ Leather coats do not wear gracefully. One of the most important articles of wear is a scarf or muffler for the neck. Regarding gloves – never wear woollen gloves, but gloves made of good soft kid. You will find room for these gloves in the little drawer under the seat of the car. It is not advisable to wear rings. Indispensable to the motorist is the ‘overall,’ this should be made of butcher blue linen in the same shape as an artist’s overall.’

Next Time we start to look at the early archives of The Lady magazine, where they featured a bi-monthly column entitled “The Lady and Her Car”