The Female Driver

December 21, 1907
Los Angelesminnieheadline

Hey, enough you, with the cracks about the lady driver.  Let’s see you make a long tour over hairpin turn-filled mountain roads replete with sharp ascents and descents.  Such a journey requires skill and judgement, “and yet,” writes the Times, “woman drivers are giving as good account of themselves in this work as men.”  

During the dear Edwardian days, the more daring element among our fairer sex would, on such tours, more often than not content themselves with presiding at the wheel on smooth stretches, leaving the real driving to the patriarchy.  Snorting a hearty pshaw at convention, Minnie Roberts of Madera shipped her 1905 White steamer touring car to Los Angeles to have it rebuilt as a runabout.  Here they also painted the auto a bright red.  She came down to LA to see how her car was coming, and, on visiting her pals Mr. and Mrs. H. D. Ryus, announced she was going to drive the beast home herself.  Mr. Ryus loaned her a mechanic in case the car should break down, but otherwise, Minnie was at the wheel.

minnieatwheel

The two days, and 315 miles, were full of hills, fords, bends, sand, ruts, desert, canyons and thick woods—and few towns.  The Tejon pass summit, where they were caught in a brief but fierce rain, is 4280 feet; Mint Cañon has a 3850 foot summit.  Minnie and the mechanic donned leather-covered laprobes during the inclement weather, since Minnie “does not believe in” glass fronts or canvas tops.

Whence came Minnie’s love of hard driving and speed?  It seems the week previous, Minnie had been taken for a ride in her pal “Wild Bill” Ruess’ fifty-horse-power Pope-Toledo (“that he uses to scare the life out of would-be motorists”) which, when it reached fifty-five miles and hour and could get no more speed, Minnie asked sweetly of Wild Bill, “Is this all the fast you can go?”

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(A 1905 White, above, indicating the proper placement of ladies within an automobile, an image I snatched from here.)

A Trip Across County Goes Awry


Aug. 23, 1907
Los Angeles

William Renwick, recent graduate of Pomona College, was to attend Yale in the fall, and rather than more mundane modes of travel decided to head East by auto in what he hoped would be the first transcontinental motor tour to begin in Los Angeles. To ensure that he arrived on time, he left in his Olds machine July 23, accompanied by professor E.E. Chandler.

Number-Crunching the Horseless Carriage


July 1, 1907
Los Angeles

If you ever wondered if the Locomobile or Pope-Hartford got great gas mileage, the answer is no, as shown in the results of the 185-mile Lakeside Endurance Race. In cost and fuel efficiency, the 1907 automobiles were about the equivalent of a 2006 Ford Explorer (MSRP $31,650) or a Range Rover Sport (MSRP $56,085-$69,025).

The car with the best gas mileage in the economy competition was the Pope-Hartford, 8

‘This is the kind of a horse’


May 27, 1907
Death Valley, Calif.

George Freeman and his wife of Pasadena, accompanied by Charles Fuller Gates of Los Angeles, were motoring out to Death Valley in a Pierce-Arrow along the old road carved by the twenty-mule teams from the borax mines when they approached a driverless wagon hitched to a skittish horse.

The auto party had taken the route from Johannesburg to Ballarat slowly, stopping to clear the road of large rocks in their path and pausing whenever they encountered a freight wagon to keep from frightening the horses and mules. Because there were only two watering holes on the road, the party had taken an ample supply of water for themselves and the car

A Ghostly Visitor

As I began to write my grand opening about Los Angeles in 1907, I felt a ghostly hand pluck ever so gently at my sleeve.
“Promise me, dear boy, you’ll remember to say that women couldn’t vote in 1907.”
“Yes, of course.”
Now where was I? Ah yes. The street names are deceptively familiar: Broadway, Spring Street and Main. But stand up on Bunker Hill and look at the city below and you might pick out the Bradbury Building and the Alexandria Hotel. Maybe the Pan American building at Broadway and 3rd Street, kitty-corner from the Bradbury and currently undergoing loft conversion, and the Rosslyn Hotel on Main.
Nothing remains of the old City Hall on Broadway but the parking lot between the Los Angeles Times garage and Victor Clothing, otherwise known as the Hosfield Building, erected as an annex for city offices in 1914 and opened in 1915 as City Hall South.
There are no freeways in this alien city. No television, no radio (or “wireless” as it was previously known) and no movie theaters. There aren’t even any comic strips in The Times, let alone crossword puzzles. Luckily, the operatic repertoire hasn’t changed greatly; Angelenos in 1907 could hear “Carmen” and “La Traviata.”
The ghostly hand intruded again, a bit more forcefully.
“Dear boy, remember about women not being able to vote?”
“I’ll get to that.”
There are a few automobiles (or “machines” as they were called) sold by dealers who set up shop on South Main around 12th Street. Reo, Rambler, Jackson, Pope-Toledo, Stevens-Duryea and Overland. Buick, Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Packard are the only familiar names. But machines seem only a bit more common than Segways are today. There are no more than 30 cars listed for sale in The Times classified ads for March 14, 1907, far outnumbered by horses; buggies and wagons, streetcars and bicycles appear to be the main modes of transportation.

Sample ad:
POPE-TOLEDO 24-H.P. TOURING CAR
with touring car body, canopy top and run-
about body. This car has just been thoroughly
overhauled and is in first-class condition.
The BIGGEST bargain offered in
Los Angeles
$1,000 ($20,523.57 USD 2005)
Western Motor Car Company
415 S. Hill
Patent medicine, séances, licensed saloons and something called a blind pig. The pages of The Times are brimming with vintage malfeasance.
“Ow! You don’t need to pinch me.”
“Dear boy, women’s suffrage?”
“Very well.”
Women in Los Angeles couldn’t vote until 1911, when a new law allowed them to cast ballots in the local elections. The 19th amendment, granting women’s suffrage, was ratified by California on Nov. 1, 1919, and proclaimed by the secretary of State on Aug. 26, 1920.  (Not passed by Mississippi until March 22, 1984? Are you serious?)
“I’ll even mention suffragette Rachel Foster Avery’s visit in August 1907. How’s that?”
“Thank you.”