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Photographic Portraits by Lafayette from the Collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London


Lady Motorists

Although the craze among ladies for cycling was well established by the mid-1890s, the activity was considered unladylike, and appealed mainly to the emancipationists and the young. Motoring, on other hand, was deeply respectable and quickly became a sign of status and wealth. It was not, however, until December 1905 that the first lady passed the examination in driving and general proficiency set by the Royal Automobile Club for the owners of cars. The credit belongs to Miss Mee, daughter of the Rev. J.H. Mee, Precentor of Chichester Cathedral.

One such lady pioneer motorist, Mrs Bernard Weguelin [seen to the right], was photographed for the press on her 12 hp Panhard. Mrs Weguelin had an understanding of the motor and claimed that she was one of the few women, who are able to locate the trouble when anything “goes wrong with the works.”

Photograph by Lafayette for The Car Illustrated, 18 June 1902.






This portrait [seen to the left] of the famous, and famously beautiful, actress Miss Violet Vanbrugh (1867-1942), presages the prevalent juxtaposition of the future - that of glamour girl and car. Unlike Mrs. Weguelin, Miss Vanbrugh was “although not so far a motorist herself she is extremely interested in all that appertains to the pastime”.

Photograph by Lafayette for The Car Illustrated, 18 June 1902.





Some went to extraordinary expense to be seen wearing just the right thing for the motor car. One “lady enthusiast”, Mrs Claude Watney [seen to the right] was photographed wearing a motoring coat made of sable-heads from Paquin, one of the most famous and expensive Parisian fashion houses.

Photograph by Lafayette for The Car Illustrated, 4 June 1902 .

The Countess of Warwick and her youngest son Maynard on a 7 hp Panhard in a photograph especially taken for publication in front of Warwick Castle.

Photograph by Lafayette for The Car Illustrated, 18 June 1902.

Suddenly Society ladies wanted to have their picture taken in a car, regardless what the vehicle it was. This 7 hp Panhard did not even belong to either Lady Warwick or her husband! When the portrait was taken, Lady Warwick was about to be delivered her first automobile – “the 20 hp Wolseley, finished as a six-seated touneau, and capable of a speed of forty miles an hour.” Her husband had, at the time, a 22 hp Daimler.


All texts copyright Barbara Borkowy and Russell Harris 2007