Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"Fastest woman on earth"

While researching an article for my other other blog Digging the Dust on dangerous hair accessories for automobiling females, I came across this Wikipedia entry for Dorothy Levitt, described as the “fastest woman on earth”.

And here is yet another ground-breaking woman of whom I knew nothing previously and despite quite a few links on that Wikipedia page it seems she has not yet warranted a full biography.

A couple of years ago, the documentary Penelope Keith and the Fast Lady was made by BBC4 but it doesn’t seem to have had world-wide distribution as I certainly would have watched if I had ever known about it.

Dorothy seems to have made her name mostly with automobiles, but hidden away among reports about her is the fact that she set the world’s first water speed record. Various American newspapers reported on her enthusiastically, as in this article from the Los Angeles Herald of January 6 1907 in which she lays down the gauntlet to American women to challenge her. (To read the full enlarged text, follow this Chronicling America link.)

And this other one from The Minneapolis Journal of 25 November, 1906, that features her water speed record as well. (Again, read the enlarged text in full at Chronicling America.)

Also note the bizarre torpedo-like invention down in the right hand corner to make women swim faster!

Rather than repeat what many other bloggers have already written about Dorothy Levitt, here are several links that will tell you more:

Rootschat (her genealogy)

A reprint of Dorothy’s book The Woman and the Car

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Christine Granville ... "nothing remotely civil"

As a follow-up to my earlier posts on little-known women who have won the George Medal, I have just read the story of another more famous recipient of this award, Christine Granville, born Krystyna Skarbek, the subject of the recent book by Clare Mulley entitled The Spy Who Loved

I was astonished to learn that Christine had originally been recommended for the George Cross but was "downgraded" to a George Medal and that even that didn't come easily. I quote the following passage from Clare Mulley's book which demonstrates the attitudes Christine was up against in spite of her incredible bravery that was equal to that of any man:

"Christine's courage and achievements throughout her service were admired by everyone who knew her. In December 1944, General Stawell had recommended her for the George Cross, the civil equivalent to the Victoria Cross, for her 'nerve, coolness and devotion to duty, and high courage'. But Christine was not impressed. The only medal that she would be proud to wear she told Francis [Cammaerts] would be a military medal. It was 'typical' of her, he said, that this was the one honour she could not hope to get.'  Women were ineligible for British military honours, a situation that caused another female agent, Pearl Witherington, to protest that 'there was nothing remotely civil' about what they had done. For reasons not recorded, General Alexander, the Supreme Allied Commander of the Mediterranean Theatre, then downgraded Stawell's recommendation for Christine to an OBE. This was subsequently raised to a George Medal by the War Office to 'make it obvious that she had been decorated for gallantry, as her courage was outstanding'."

The Spy who Loved

My own review of the book can be read on my other blog Regina the Bookspinner here.