Looking Beyond the Photo Finish: Women Racers

The following is a guest post by Hanna Soltys, who arrived at the Library of Congress in June 2018 as a Librarian in Residence, making wonderful contributions and observations while working as a reference librarian in the Prints & Photographs Division.

When getting acclimated to a new place, you’re encouraged to “get lost.” I pleasantly have gotten lost in the Library of Congress tunnels, Union Station, a handful of Metro locations, and the streets of D.C. But a favorite was getting lost in the rich collections of the Prints & Photographs Division.

Hanna Soltys looking at photo of Janine Jennky that sent her touring Prints & Photographs Division collections for pictures of autoists. Photo by Ryan Brubacher, 2018 Nov. 19.

Hanna Soltys looking at photo of Janine Jennky that sent her touring Prints & Photographs Division collections for pictures of autoists. Photo by Jan Grenci, 2018 Nov. 19.

I came across a photo of a woman in a race car with a man, identified as her mechanic and racing legend Albert Divo. Investigating the photo, entitled “Miss Jenki”, I realized that the woman pictured was France’s Janine Jennky after matching her picture in other publications and her major races in racing entry logs. The corresponding caption on the back of the photo told the racing tale and successes of a Czechoslovakian, which led me to Eliška Junková. One photo, two women’s stories.

Learning about these two women fueled my desire to learn more about turn-of-the-century racers, often known as autoists. Every name I came across in Georgine Clarsen’s Eat My Dust (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) and Todd McCarthy’s Fast Women: The Legendary Ladies of Racing (New York: Miramax Books/Hyperion, 2007), I quickly searched in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog in an attempt to put faces to their names. It’s hard to choose favorites, but these are the women fueling my interest.

The woman James Gordon Bennett Jr. of The New York Herald dubbed the “greatest sportswoman of all time” quickly piqued my interest. Camille du Gast was a balloonist, parachute jumper, fencer, tobogganist, skier, rifle and pistol shooter, horse trainer, and concert pianist – as seen in this publicity photo from a 1900 piano recital. She was the second woman to compete in an international motor race, becoming the only woman official of the Automobile Club de France (A.C.F.).

Mme. Camille Dugast. Photo by Bain News Service, between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.06779

Mme. Camille Dugast [i.e. du Gast]. Photo by Bain News Service, between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.06779

Blanche Stuart Scott became the first woman to drive westwards from New York City to San Francisco in 1910. These trans-continental drives were popular and closely followed as driver and passenger were the ones responsible for trouble-shooting and repairs along the way. One of these events garnered the attention of Jerome Fanciulli and Glenn Curtiss, who then provided Scott with flying lessons, which became her claim to fame.

Blanche Scott. Photo by Bain News Service, between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.12209

Blanche Scott. Photo by Bain News Service, between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.12209

Reading about these cross-country tours became so exciting through newspaper accounts, where I found my way to Joan Newton Cuneo. Steering to a perfect score during the 1908 Glidden tour, Cuneo was eventually banned in 1909 when the American Automobile Association barred women from organized racing with men. She continued racing and breaking records, all unofficially.

 Mrs. Joan Newton, Cuneo. Photo by Bain News Service, between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.02003

Mrs. Joan Newton, Cuneo. Photo by Bain News Service, between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.02003

The Library’s holdings feature more and more women taking the wheel, especially during the suffragist and wartime eras–proving that getting lost often leads to an unexpected, yet very welcome, destination.

Learn More

  • Discover images in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog of Targa Fiorlo race (a race Junková lost in the final lap to Albert Divo) and Glidden Tour (a trans-continental journey).
  • Follow the newspaper coverage of Joan Newton Cuneo during a Glidden Tour in Chronicling America.
  • Be prepared for the open road by reading Autoist Dorothy Levitt’s The Woman and the Car: A Chatty Little Handbook for all Women who Motor or Who Want to Motor (London, John Lane; New York, John Lane Company, 1909), which details what to wear, potential troubles to watch, and understanding the expenses of an automobile. The Library of Congress has the original 1909 edition [view catalog record description] as well as more recent reprints; the full text can be viewed via HathiTrust.
  • Re-travel Picture This blog posts: Women and Automobiles and Summer Road Trip: From Sea to Shining Sea
  • See how Czechoslovakia autoist Eliška Junková inspired composer Jaroslav Ježek’s “Bugatti Step”; the score is available in the Performing Arts Reading Room [view catalog record description].

One Comment

  1. Sylivester Sennabulya
    November 26, 2018 at 4:08 am

    I used to think that I was the only one that ever got lost in LoC tunnels. I too agree with getting lost in the collections. You want something and it leads you to another, you may even loose interest in what you were looking for before

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