Women Take the Wheel

Special AACA Museum Exhibit

Larry Jewett - March 15, 2013 09:29 AM

ImageAACA Museum
ImageAACA Museum

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Since the first automobiles began rolling off production lines over 100 years ago, women have played an important part in shaping all aspects of the automotive industry. Throughout the month of March, the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) Museum will focus on the impact of the automobile through a women's history perspective.
When automobiles were introduced, replacing traditional horse and buggy transportation, the idea of women operating state-of-the-art automobile equipment was met with opposition by male members of society. On March 7, 1908, Cincinnati mayor Mark Breith explained before the city council that "women are not physically fit to operate automobiles."  Victorian women were often viewed as too fragile to deal with public affairs, participate in strenuous activity, or operate complex machinery - such as automobiles. These stereotypes influenced the first vehicles marketed towards women. Alternative fueled vehicles were developed specially for women. The first hybrid and electric cars were manufactured over 100 years go to make operation easier for women. Not only did these cars do away with the dangerous and strenuous engine crank handle, but the interiors were also more comfortable and appealing to women.
The automobile, first a symbol of male power and control, became the perfect vehicle for feminine revolt. For women, the automobile provided opportunities for work, invention, adventure and independence. Victorian women of the early 19th century were able to openly revolt in auto racing, then considered a male only sport. One such case of revolution was Violette Morris, an early auto racer. Violette was so passionate about auto racing that she voluntarily had her breasts removed in order to more comfortably fit behind the wheel. This is only one example, out of many, when Victorian women with passion and determination fought to earn an equal position with men in the automotive realm.
Nearly a century later, women are now welcomed graciously to participate in all varieties of motorsports, competing against, and even beating, their male counterparts. Women now make up more than half of the automotive market and have significant influence on the way automobile manufactures design, market and sale vehicles today. Currently, women influence more than 85 percent of all car purchases. Many women hold very powerful positions throughout the automotive industry.
In recognition of Women's History Month, the AACA Museum will focus on women who made automotive history; from women like Violette Morris who first challenged male chauvinistic stereotypes and stepped up to her ego driven counterparts, to Danica Patrick. who is currently one of the most well-known and talked about female racers in the world.
Throughout March, the AACA Museum will feature specially written gallery labels that will help visitors navigate through the Museum in a journey celebrating women and their contributions to the automotive industry and how they steered the course for where the industry stands today.
The Antique Automobile Club of America Museum, a member of the Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program, displays beautifully restored automobiles, buses and motorcycles in unique life-like scenes representing the 1900's - 1980's in a cross-country journey from New York to San Francisco.   The AACA Museum, a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, is one of the nation's newest and largest automotive museums.  Special exhibits change several times a year and focus on a variety of eras and types of vehicles.  The AACA Museum is located in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The Museum is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  For further information, visit