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Les Dames Goldsmith in the Bois de Boulogne in 1897 on a Peugeot cart.
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet
Publication date: September 2005
In the XVIIIe century already, it was the latest chic for an elegant woman to drive a light phaeton or a convertible drawn by one or two dashing horses. In the following century, it was fashionable for a woman of the world to walk in the Bois de Boulogne to show off, either on horseback when she practiced the equestrian art, or as a brilliant crew, generally in a horse-drawn carriage. “À la Daumont”. In the famous novel by Émile Zola, Nana thus comes to attend the Grand Prix de Paris "in her landau trimmed with silver, harnessed to the Daumont by four magnificent white horses, a gift from Count Muffat".
At the end of the XIXe century, the advent of the automobile did not fundamentally change the habits of elegant women. Highly priced due to artisanal production using numerous subcontracting companies, the automobile was only accessible to an elite until 1914: aristocrats and big bourgeois did not disdain to drive it. . Thus, at the beginning of the XXe century, can the journalist Alfred Capus write in one of his chronicles: "Automobile driving was not a simple industrial event: it is henceforth involved, in an intimate way, in the history of contemporary elegance. "
Inspired by the many facets of feminine charm, Julius Leblanc Stewart could not help but be fascinated by the unusual spectacle of a woman driving a petroleum automobile.
Groomed from top to bottom, the Goldsmith ladies flaunt themselves with undisguised pleasure at the controls of a Peugeot cart. Driving is still on the right, and steering is provided, not by a steering wheel, but by means of the traditional "cow tail". A dog stands proudly in front of the vehicle. At this time, it was indeed fashionable for an elegant woman to show herself with a pedigree dog.
The driver probably holds a driver's license. In fact, since 1896, a “certificate of capacity” signed by the prefect is compulsory. It is issued following an examination taken in front of a mining engineer, who assesses the way the candidate drives and who questions him about the knowledge and maintenance of his automobile. Driving lessons are usually given by the vehicle seller. Driving schools were not created until 1917. Likewise, a certificate authorizing the use of the car - the equivalent of our current registration card - has also been compulsory since 1896.
Finally, the social function of the horse-drawn carriage and that of the Peugeot cart of the Goldsmith ladies are more or less the same. These are means of locomotion mainly used by the wealthy elite of the population and which mainly involve the art of appearing. Nevertheless, the automobile, through its active and technical dimension, profoundly modifies the posture and therefore the meaning of the walk for women. In this sense, the automobile constitutes for them one of the major instruments in their journey towards emancipation and freedom.
Very early on, women competed with men for the privilege of driving these first automobiles. Thus, in 1897, the Duchess of Uzès (1847-1933) was the first woman to obtain a driver's license, and her example was soon followed by others. From ordinary driving to motorsport, there was just one step that was quickly taken. Madame Camille du Gast was undoubtedly the first woman to enter an automobile competition - the Paris-Madrid in May 1903 -, but the Automobile-Club de France forbade her to register for the Gordon-Bennett Cup. Next year. "A woman driving a passenger car at the right time! A woman driving a racing car [...] you mustn't, ”the article readAllgemeine Automobile Zeitung this year.
World War I did a lot for the empowerment of women in the automotive industry. Many were those who took the wheel to drive ambulances, but also taxis or buses. During the interwar period, in addition to the "boyish men" driving touring or sports cars, such as Joséphine Baker or Mistinguett, many women entered motor racing, notably by participating in the Monte-Carlo Rally from from 1925. In 1926, women finally had their Women's Automobile-Club, under the presidency of the Duchess of Uzès. The same year, Mademoiselle Hellé-Nice, a former nude dancer at the Casino de Paris, became a racing driver. She raced in Formula 1 some seventy-six Grands Prix and rallies. In 1937, she rode for ten days in the Montlhéry bowl and, with her three teammates, broke fifteen international records and ten world records.
After the Second World War, the participation of women in major national and international motor races was more discreet than during the Roaring Twenties. However, with the democratization of the automobile helping, this remark by automobile journalist Baudry de Saunier (1865-1938), published in 1935 in The Illustration, seems more relevant than ever: “Today the spectacle of the woman driving is so usual, so normal, that it seems to date from the very beginning of the automobile. If a woman drives with as much, if not more caution and coolness than a man, she is rarely curious about the mechanism of her car. It respects the mysteries buried under the hood, under the floor, and in the crankcases; Admittedly, she doesn't have to suffer too much from so much discretion if she takes the precaution of stopping by the gas station from time to time. "
- Belle Epoque
Christian-Henry TAVARD, "The automobile and the liberation of women", in Historia, 1984, special issue 449 bis L’Automobile a 100 ans, 1884-1984.
To cite this article
Alain GALOIN, “The Goldsmith Ladies in the Bois de Boulogne in 1897 on a Peugeot cart”