Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Earliest Women's Races

Ellen Jouanny and a De Dion motor tricycle

Events for women drivers have existed almost since the earliest days of motorsport.

Le Championnat des Chauffeuses
In 1897, the first known ladies’ race was held at the Longchamps racecourse, in Paris. It was billed as the “Championnat des Chauffeuses” (Women Drivers’ Championship), and was held as part of a race meeting for those involved in showbusiness. Among the entrants were a vaudeville actress (Ellen Jouanny) and a costume designer (Léa Lemoine). These events would later become the "Championnat des Artistes". In the early days, they mainly consisted of bicycle races, which some of the "chauffeuses" also entered. It was organised by the Paris Echo newspaper.
Eight women competed, riding De Dion motorised tricycles. The format of the event consisted of three elimination runs, of one lap each, and a final, of two laps. The results were as follows:

Heat 1
1. Léa Lemoine
2. Ellen Jouanny
3. Jane Boié

Heat 2
1. “Bossu”
2. Germaine Doverne
3. Hélène Darbell

Heat 3
1. De Grandval
2. “Hellé”

1.  Léa Lemoine
2.  De Grandval
3.   “Bossu”

The competitors all received prizes, with the winner, Léa Lemoine, being presented with a bracelet.

The Championnat was run at least three times, between 1897 and 1899. Some of the drivers, including Léa Lemoine, returned for all three editions. Later events were open to cyclecars as well as tricycles.

The Ranelagh Automobile Gymkhana
In July, 1900, the first ladies’ race in the UK was held at the Ranelagh Club in Barnes, London. It was part of the Ranelagh Automobile Gymkhana, which comprised of a series of races, challenges and motorised games. The race was run on a course a little less than a mile long, and consisted of a single lap. The results were as follows:

1. Miss Weblyn (6hp Daimler “Parisian”)
2. Mrs. Edward Kennard (De Dion Voiturette)
3. Miss M. Lloyd-Price (4hp Panhard)
DNF: Miss Vera Butler (6hp Panhard)

Vera Butler also took part in the “Starting and Stopping Handicap” later on.
For a long time, there was some confusion around this race, as “Weblyn” was written down somewhere as “Wemblyn”, making it hard to verify her existence.
The Gymkhana was not a one-off, and more ladies’ races were held. In 1904, a ladies' race was organised, but as only one driver, Mrs. George Thrupp, turned up, she was awarded the prize in a walkover. After this, the Gymkhana appears to have become an official event of the Ladies' Automobile Club, the first all-female car club in the UK. They held gymkhanas at Ranelagh in 1905 and 1906, at least.

The earliest women's race in the USA seems to have been held at Washington Park in Chicago, in September 1900. The track was a mile-long dirt oval. Two women took part, but the make and model of their cars is not recorded. They may well have been electric vehicles, which were considered suitable for female drivers. A driver with the same surname as Jeanette Lindstrom is also recorded in an electric car race at the same meeting. The race was run over two laps.


1. Miss Jeanette Lindstrom
2. Miss M.E. Ryan
The Brooklands Ladies’ Bracelet Handicap
The original proprietors of Brooklands were not overly keen on female drivers, but in 1908, a Ladies’ Race was put on for them. Ethel Locke-King, one of the leading drivers, was the wife of Hugh Locke-King, the owner of Brooklands, and helped to run the track, despite not being allowed to drive on it competitively. Seven women entered the Handicap, but only five made it to the start.

1. Muriel Thompson (Austin “Pobble”)
2. Ethel Locke-King (Itala)
3. Christabel Ellis (Arrol-Johnston “Guarded Flame”)
4. Mrs J. Roland Hewitt (De Dion)
5. Nelly Ridge-Jones (Sunbeam)
DNS: Lady Muriel Gore-Brown (Humber)
DNS: Ada Billing (Mors)

Later, at the August Bank Holiday meeting, a Match Race was held between Muriel Thompson and Christabel Ellis, which was again won by Muriel Thompson.

(I am grateful to Grace’s Guide [www.gracesguide.co.uk] for information.)

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