Monday, December 21st, 2015...1:46 pm

American sheet music, early automobiles and women drivers

Jump to Comments

I’m pleased to introduce a few images from the Theatre Collection’s current Sheet Music project, beginning a series of posts with intriguing, entertaining and informative images. I’m working on a survey of a hidden collection, part of Harvard’s popular American sheet music holdings, and these early 20th century pieces are from a collection at Houghton Library organized by title. The graphics in this series illustrate every aspect of popular American culture from the mid 19th – mid 20th centuries: music trends, stereotypes, performers, popular dances, fashion, gender roles, and the development of mass production and marketing of music for performance in the home.

Sheet Music 88 cover

Sheet Music 88 cover



Here are two pieces of piano music from 1900 and 1907, each with snazzy chromolithographed covers depicting women passengers and drivers. These women motorists were daring, fashionable and well-to-do. The Automobile March and Two Step by J. W. Ladd, 1900, depicts two white women with billowing hats and scarves, seated in an open vehicle, possibly an autocycle, on a country road. The African American chauffeur in the rumble seat is depicted as a stereotypical obeisant servant with exaggerated facial features, reminiscent of blackface minstrelsy. Not sure who is driving here from the illustration. The two women are certainly exuberant, smiling and waving. There was a horseless carriage called the Keystone Three-Seater Autocycle that could be controlled from a long handle, but this design is different.

Sheet Music 87 cover

Sheet Music 87 cover

The cover of The Automobile: Characteristic March Two Step by Rose De Haven, 1907, shows an elegant woman driving, dressed for motoring in a hat tied on with flowing scarves. The caption at the top reads “Dedicated to my chum Vera Stanley” (probably the American stage actress). The only lyrics are “Honk! Honk!” Both vehicles predate the Ford Model T, known as the Tin Lizzie, the first mass produced automobile.

For more on women drivers of this period, and early motor vehicles, see:
Gender and the Automobile in the United States by Margaret Walsh.
Femininity and the Electric Car by Virginia Scharff.
Scharff, Virginia. Taking the Wheel : Women and the Coming of the Motor Age. New York; Toronto: New York: Collier Macmillan Canada ; Maxwell Macmillan International, 1991.

[Thanks to Dana Gee, Project Sheet Music Cataloger, with assistance from Samuel J. Parler, Teaching Fellow, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, for contributing this post.]

Comments are closed.