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Dorothy Levitt early motoring


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#51 LotusElise

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 22:31

She died in 1922 whilst living at 50 Upper Brook Street, London.

I posted some details in the Discussion area on the Wikipedia page about her.

Not found her in the 1911 census - someone wondered whether she could have been a Suffragette?

I also wondered whether she might have driven an ambulance in WWI with FANY or some similar organisation?

Her parents died around Brighton as did her sister and husband. There are a couple of births in Brighton in the 1920s which could be her sister's from the mother's maiden name so it is possible that there are descendants of her sister. There were four other siblings but all died before 1911, quite likely as infants.

MB

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She wasn't very old when she died, then - possibly only in her early 40s. I wonder what happened? She did disappear from the scene fairly swiftly after her book was published. I have always suspected pregnancy to be the culprit, but perhaps it was illness.

If she was a FANY recruit, I'm sure it would have been picked up on. Muriel Thompson, a contemporary of Dorothy's who raced at Brooklands, was a prominent FANY, and several articles have been written about her contributions. The FANY themselves seem to have a good archive. Interestingly, Muriel Thompson too died quite prematurely, of a lung disease, although she was older than Dorothy.

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#52 Lundavra

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 11:21

She wasn't very old when she died, then - possibly only in her early 40s. I wonder what happened? She did disappear from the scene fairly swiftly after her book was published. I have always suspected pregnancy to be the culprit, but perhaps it was illness.

If she was a FANY recruit, I'm sure it would have been picked up on. Muriel Thompson, a contemporary of Dorothy's who raced at Brooklands, was a prominent FANY, and several articles have been written about her contributions. The FANY themselves seem to have a good archive. Interestingly, Muriel Thompson too died quite prematurely, of a lung disease, although she was older than Dorothy.


She was 38 when she died

She is listed in the telephone directory at Portman Mansions until 1913 but can't see her in the directory in the postwar ones that I looked at.

She had such an active life in the 1900s that I cannot imagine her sitting at home knitting socks during WWI, FANY was just one organisation that came to mind but I think there were others using women drivers.

MB

#53 Lundavra

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 12:44

Coincidentally a mention of her in The car and British society: class, gender and motoring, 1896-1939 is immediately followed by a bit about 5000 women drivers serving in the Women's League Transport Section in WWI.

MB

#54 Lundavra

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 18:16

I have been given more information on her sister's family, she had two sons and two daughters so there could be descendants of them around who might know more about what happened to Dorothy.

MB

#55 Peter Knight

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Posted 02 March 2012 - 11:23

Hello, I hope that somebody can help with some information. Dorothy Levitt is commonly reported to be both the first woman to compete in a motor race and subsequently the first woman to win a motor race. This is usually dated as 4 July 1903, and noted as the Southport Speed Trial. This synopsis, commonly sourced from Wikipedia, is almost certainly wrong because her diary records that she competed in an event in April 1903, "did not win, will do better next time". And, despite the dates recorded in various places online, the relevant Southport Trials took place on 3rd October 1903 - Dorothy notes this in her diary, and both 'The Times' and 'The Guardian' reported the event on Monday October 5th.

My question is - What motoring events occurred in April 1903 that Dorothy may have competed in? As she probably only placed in her class it may be hard to find documentation, - 'woman cannot drive as well as men' was hardly newsworthy!' This clarification is important because twas I who diligently researched all online sources and then posted wrong information in Wikipedia :well: and I would like to correct it. Also ann editor of the Oxford National Dictionary of Biography is preparing a new page on Dorothy Levitt which deserves to be correct.

N.B. According to Dorothy's diary her schedule for 1903 was:
April - 'motor-car competition' ("First Englishwoman to take part in public motor-car competition. Did not win. Will do better next time"); - [Where/what/when was this???]
May - Glasgow-London Non-stop run. Drove 16hp Gladiator; Score 994 out of 1,000;
(August - won the Gaston Menier Cup, Trouville, France; [I believe this was a motor-boat, but I am not certain.] )
(August 8th - drove Napier motor-boat at Cowes, won the race, and was commanded to the Royal yacht by King Edward VII; (King thought boat useful for government despatch work))
September - 1000 mile Reliability Trials, 16 hp Gladiator, Won, fastest time in class;
October 2 - competed in the Southport Speed Trials, 16 hp Gladiator, won silver cup for fastest time. [This is presumably the first overall victory by a woman.]
(October - won the Championship of the Seas, at Trouville in the Napier motor-boat. (French government then bought boat!))

If any group can solve the April 1903 question it has to be this forum. I also look forward to learning what constituted a 'motor race' rather than event or rally or trial in 1903. Has this already been debated or agreed on this forum?

Many thanks in advance.

Edited by Peter Knight, 03 March 2012 - 11:48.


#56 Vitesse2

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Posted 02 March 2012 - 13:41

Dealing with the 4th of July question first: this was the first day of the ACGB&I's "Irish fortnight", which encompassed the Gordon Bennett Trophy and several other events. Absolutely nothing to do with Southport!

TR Nicholson's "Sprint" records only one event in April - the Welbeck Trials on the 27th, which were the Gordon Bennett elimination competition. Obviously Dorothy wasn't anywhere near that standard at that point, so we can discount that, especially as the participants are all known.

However, he does say there was "a crop of small club events ... in the spring and summer". Difficult to know how he defines spring, of course, but it seems to be a very small crop, with none of them before May. Reference to the journals of the time might throw up more details, but it should of course be borne in mind that some events went un- or under-reported since they had been held on public roads and the speed limit exceeded. For that reason there was often no pre-publicity either, in order not to tip off the police to the presence of "scorchers".

Having said that, although Nicholson was pretty diligent in at least listing all events he had found, he does say in his introduction that he has ignored events which were announced but for which he found no results and "monstrosities like 'slow' hillclimbs ... the majority of 'stop-and-restart' events ... untimed climbs held in the course of reliability trials ... very short sprints sometimes included with egg-and-spoon races in the frivolous 'gymkhanas'". He also makes the point that the press relied on the club officials to provide reports: in the case of minor events they might be "lazy, busy, ill, no longer in office, or dead."

So, a 'motor-car competition' could be anything really, although knowing Miss Levitt's propensities I doubt it was anything like a "concours d'élégance" or one of those odd events where cars were decorated with flowers.

So, in short, this looks like it entails a trip to a good archive. If this is anywhere to be found it's in an old magazine or local newspaper: The Motor, The Autocar or maybe Automotor Journal might point you in the right direction to uncover a report in some newspaper "morgue" - and bear in mind that many local papers are available on microfilm in local libraries. Most local history libraries are quite happy to help, given enough basic details to work with: I've had good results from both Southampton and Plymouth recently.

Finally, if I were to take a punt on a date, I'd start looking at Easter Saturday or Monday - April 11th and 13th.

#57 Robin Fairservice

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Posted 02 March 2012 - 22:45

In the book by David Venables, "Napier The First to Wear the Green" on page 77 it says that Dorothy Levitt began her racing career driving a Gladiator in the 1903 Southport Speed Trials where she won her class.

She had been hiredfor Edge's office in 1902/3 as an "emergency lady type-writer".

#58 Peter Knight

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 00:06

Many thanks so far. I hope this post is appropriate, but if too long I will remove it. It does not answer my original question but members may find it an interesting read. It is a full page article/profile from the Penny Illustrated Paper of November 1906, worthy of a 2006 PR piece. I suspect it shows that she shared a bottle of something with the journalist.

The Sensational Adventures of Miss Dorothy Levitt, - Champion Lady Motorist of the World

Miss Dorothy Levitt's Adventurous career.
"P.I.P." Special

Is there any woman in the United States who thinks she can equal or better the record of nearly 100 miles an hour in an automobile. She will now have a chance to win the title of World's Champion Woman Automobilist. Miss Dorothy Levitt, of London, at present claims the title and has many prizes won in races both in cars on land and in motor-boats on sea. Only the other day she eclipsed all women's records at Blackpool by twice doing the flying kilometre in exactly the same time - 24.6 seconds, which nearly approached 100 miles an hour.

"I want to arrange a match for the World's Championship with an American Woman automobilist." she said to me. "I am willing to race either here or at Ormond Beach, Florida, or elsewhere in the United States. The conditions need to be of the simplest. I am keen to race an American woman for the World's Championship. I must look to America for a race. - There is no one left in Europe with whom to compete. I have beaten them all, and badly too. Madame du Gast, the French motorist, does not drive a high power machine. There are only two real racing cars over here - the 200 h.p. Darracq, now the property of the Hon. David Guiness, and my 90 h.p. Napier, which has just been sold to a South American millionaire. It goes to Brazil in a few days. But if my challenge is accepted in America, I will go to work and build a new racer. It will be a 90 h.p., for I think I handle that the best."

To read Miss Dorothy Levitt's own words, or to look at her records, one would at once picture an Amazon. But she is far from that. She is a very womanly woman - fairly tall, with a willowy figure, large and velvety brown eyes, bronze coloured hair, well shaped features with a large but laughter lit mouth. Her muscles are like steel. She is the picture of health, and a perfect example of the well-groomed, fashionable Englishwoman.

Miss Levitt's is a romantic history. In five years she has reached the top of the tree in her unique profession. While this girl of twenty-five is the most daring of women automobile drivers in the world, outside of her car she would scream at a mouse, and is nervous and afraid when trundling around town in a hansom cab.

The Levitts are an old London family. Miss Dorothy was born here. Her father, who was in the Government service, has retired on a pension to his country house. When Dorothy was twenty, she was introduced to S.F.Edge, the motor-boat racer and automobilist. Mr Edge was told the little tale of woe and suggested she carve out a career for herself. So he arranged her apprenticeship to a firm of French automobile makers on the outskirts of Paris, and there Dorothy Levitt went for six months. While her parents searched everywhere for her, although they knew she was well and happy, Dorothy was learning the automobile business. She began at the bottom as a wiper, or cleaner, and finished as a machinist and chauffeur. She took an interest in her workand daily wore her blue overalls and worked alongside the others at the factory.
Then she returned to London and immediately began learning the ins and outs of London traffic. Mr Edge was astonished at her quickly gathered proficiency and at her nerve. She was soon earning a good salary teaching women how to handle a car. She taught a host of people from the Queen and Royal Princesses down through Duchesses and Countesses to plain everyday American visitors.

There happened about this time to be a reliability run from Edinburgh to London. Miss Levitt was one of the 350 competitors. She reached London thirteenth and won her first prize and medal thereby. She did all her own repairs onthe road, and was not a bit dismayed at the ill omened number.
"Thirteen is my lucky number and Friday my lucky day" she told me.

Once in the public eye Miss Levitt went up with a rush. She was a competitor in the motor-boat race at Cowes, Isle of Wight, the first contest of the kind held anywhere. Miss Levitt won this big and exciting race, and was afterwards taken on board the Royal yacht and presented to King Edward, who congratulated her on her pluck and skill. A few days later she raced again at Trouville against all the world's cracks, and she won the five mile world's championship of the sea and the $1,750.

She tried racing on land after that, and in cars of increasing power won trophy after trophy. Her biggest race was last July in the Brighton Handicap. She drove an 80 h.p. Napier. Madame du Gast's car was 35 h.p., and the French champion had a very big allowance, but Miss Levitt wore down all her opponents, the cracks of Europe, and by her superb nerve won by a block.

She has cups and shields and medals galore, and has received dozens of prize checks hill-climbing, endurance and reliability trials. Only the other day she won a small car trial at Hereford with her pet machine, a baby 8 h.p., which she built herself in Paris.
This is one of the daintiest cars in London. It has most graceful curves and lines, such as are seldom seen on automobiles. The colouring is white picked out with green.

Miss Levitt has had plenty of narrow escapes. At Blackpool, for instance, during the speed trials, two dogs, three children, and finally three more dogs came out onto the track and tried to cross over. Miss Levitt spoiled her trials but managed with splendid work to save the children. History does not tell what happened to the dogs.

Again, at Worcester, hillclimbing, her car was the only one without non-skid wheels. Going round one sharp bend her car began skidding. Miss Levitt, though the crowd frantically shrieked to her jump, held tight to her steering wheel and stayed in her seat. Yet her outside wheels went half an inch from the edge of the road, and after the edge of that road there was nothing but a sheer precipice 400 feet deep.

At the last Blackpool speed trials, while going at 96 miles an hour - it was a standing start - one of the straps on the bonnet broke and the wind got under the big steel envelope and blew it back. Miss Levitt put the brakes on - slowly at first, and then jammed them down hard.
The car was stopped just as the last screw gave way and the bonnet flew back. If it had gone back while at the furious pace of 96 miles an hour, the heavy steel covering would either have crushed to death the woman driver or else cut her head off.

I asked Miss Levitt what her sensations were in going at this awful pace.
"Wonderful," she answered. - "One can hardly describe one's sensations. 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."

Miss Levitt told me that she made up for the fearful excitement of automobile racing by quietly going fishing. She is a splendid rod, and trout fishing is her favourite sport.

As it takes wonderful nerve to play poker, her favourite game, well. Miss Levitt has proved a star at the American national card gamble. She is also an expert at roulette, and has a most wonderful secret system with which she is going this winter to attempt to break the bank at Monte Carlo. She will take with her Dodo, a tiny black Pomeranian dog. Dodo was the property of Mlle. Marie Cornelle, and was given to Miss Levitt in Paris three or four years ago. There is a very strict law against admitting dogs into England. So Dodo was smuggled. He was first drugged, and then packed in some some waste in the repair box of an automobile that came through without much examination. Dodo went to sleep in Paris and safely came out of his trance in London. He goes everywherewith his mistress, and Miss Levitt declares he has travelled more miles in an automobile than any other dog in the world.

Miss Levitt has travelled much in the last few years - in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Morocco. Now she wants to visit the United States.

n.b. The Illustrated article is available from the British Library http://newspapers11.bl.uk/blcs/ - search for Dorothy Levitt and select News - Penny Illustrated Paper of November 1906,

Edited by Peter Knight, 03 March 2012 - 11:42.


#59 David McKinney

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 06:57

Thanks Peter - all good stuff

Seems S F Edge's skill in the art of self-publicity rubbed off :lol:

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#60 Tim Murray

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 08:30

I hope this post is appropriate, but if too long I will remove it.

This post is very appropriate, and fascinating. Please don't hesitate to post more of the same. :clap:

#61 Vitesse2

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 10:22

Coupe Gaston Menier.

Although this doesn't make it clear, I'd guess that the boats are not so much speedboats as cruisers, possibly from a standing (floating?) start. The time quoted would seem to indicate that:

http://gallica.bnf.f.....enier".langEN

The 1904 event is over "3 milles marins", with comparable times. The next couple of pages after the linked one give starters and results in various classes:

http://gallica.bnf.f.....enier".langEN

This, also from 1904, mentions the 1903 race, but there's a time discrepancy, as it quotes 11'29" for the winning Napier.

http://gallica.bnf.f.....enier".langEN

1903 time and distance confirmed here at 11'29.2". Although Edge's name is given as winner, it's almost certainly as entrant (see the Mercedes win credited to M Charley in the previous column).

http://gallica.bnf.f.....enier".langFR

More detail on 1904 here:

http://gallica.bnf.f.....enier".langEN

#62 David McKinney

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 11:28

I have merged the two Dorothy Levitt threads, as some of the earlier material might be helpful

#63 Peter Knight

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 16:35

Hi, The contributions and connections triggered by this forum have lead to considerable improvements in the Wikipedia article about Dorothy Levitt, but it still begs several outstanding questions on which I would appreciate the opinions and sources of this forum.
Where / when did she meet Selwyn Edge?
Which manufacturer did she work for in Paris?
Where did she have her first (April 1903) competition?
What was her record at Brooklands? ... 1908, 1909 and onwards.
I have no access to sources from Brooklands, and haven't yet found a good Google search phrase, but I get the feeling that members here cumulatively know everything about the place.
Regards
Peter