Electric vehicles such as this one dwindled in popularity, and gas cars began to take over.
Women behind the wheel
In the early 20th century, motoring was considered a solely masculine activity. Let alone making cars for women, no one even considered if they wanted to drive. Men largely dismissed the designs of gas cars as impractical and inappropriate for women from the get-go. Dirty, smelly, loud, fast, dangerous – these were all thought of as too much for a woman to handle.
But that wasn’t true. Of course, women wanted to drive and wished to experience motoring in the same way men did. But their desire to get behind the wheel was seen as taboo. Women increasingly demanded for it to be normalized and not seen as inappropriate. While women weren’t banned from taking to the road, the expectations and structures of society made it near impossible for a woman to have access to driving on her own. Usually, a woman’s husband would have to buy her a car and would naturally have a significant say in how she uses it.
The conversation around women driving was illustrated exceptionally by what was published in the media at the time. In 1905, the automobile magazine Motor, published a fictional series called “The Wonderful Monster”. Driven around by her chauffeur, its protagonist, Lady Dorothy Beeston, longs to take the wheel. Her love for driving is shared by the chauffeur, and their shared passion for automobiles is presented as infidelity within the story.
The story doesn’t have a happy ending. As Lady Beeston swears off driving altogether after her chauffeur is killed in car crash, she promises her husband to forgo “the frivolous pleasures, the follies and vices of the new century”. The story is never clear as to who exactly is driving the car – Lady Beeston or the chauffeur. The author clearly blames Lady Beeston’s love for fast driving as the reason for the disastrous events of the story.
With driving presented as a wild passion that women should avoid, one Victorian traditionalist declared that women “...are wholly unfitted to pilot ships, command armies, or operate automobiles, through no fault of their own. They were born that way”. As ever, women found themselves facing a battle when it came to entering a space that men had claimed as their own.
Motor didn’t just publish stories that presented women driving as some sort of demonic and illicit affair. The magazine did, in fact, push the boundaries and question the gender divide in motoring, launching an essay contest that explored the debate over if it was appropriate for women to drive. The winning essay resolutely stated to “give her the road”.
Much to the chagrin of conservatives everywhere, women wished to take the wheel. But the physical problems of gas cars remained. They were smelly. Traditionalists everywhere argued, how could a woman be expected to deal with that? Society was firm in its opinions: it was inappropriate for a delicate woman to drive such a beast.
Meanwhile, EVs were lagging development of gas cars was moving on and gasoline was getting cheaper. Electric vehicle makers were searching for an audience to keep selling to. And that’s when Pope Manufacturing Company devised a marketing strategy to target EVs as the perfect automobile for “well-bred women”.
EVs are for girls, gas cars are for boys
Pope’s marketing strategy was soon emulated by various other EV automakers. Victorian ideals still dominated society and the notion that gas cars were for men and EVs were for women fit perfectly into the neat little boxes of masculine and feminine. EVs were noiseless, clean and didn’t require the same manual labor to start that a gas car did. They were also smaller and slower, and often enclosed as well, unlike many gas cars at the time. Positioned as the perfect vehicle for women, they also appealed to husbands who didn’t want their wives to have too much mobility.