HomeCar CultureThe Women of Automotive History

The Women of Automotive History

International Women's Day celebrates these and others


March 8th is recognized as International Women’s Day around the world. We take this day to honor women’s accomplishments and contributions to society while also bringing attention to the issues and disparity women continue to face. We at the Journal want to recognize and remember the women who have been (and continue to be) part of the automotive world. Women have been pioneers, inventors, drivers and executives in transportation innovation throughout history. Here are some women and their accomplishments.

Bertha Benz

Bertha Karl Benz in 1870. (Image courtesy Daimler Chrysler AG)

Not only was Bertha the wife of Karl Benz, but she also played an essential role in the early development of the automobile. In 1888, she made the first long-distance automotive excursion (or, as we say today, “road trip”) by driving 65 miles in her husband’s Benz Patent-Motorwagen vehicle with her two teenage sons.

Denise McCluggage

Denise McCluggage (Image courtesy of Road and Track magazine)

A trailblazing journalist and race car driver in the 1950s and 1960s, Denise participated in sports car and rally competitions, and became the first female winner of a significant sports car race. She began racing after meeting Briggs Cunningham, builder of the first American cars in Le Mans. She also worked as a journalist for various outlets and helped launch the magazine which would become AutoWeek.

Lyn St. James

Lyn St. James at the 2000 Indy 500 qualifier. (Image courtesy of Lyn St. James)

Lyn is a former race car driver who participated in the Indianapolis 500 seven times. She was voted Rookie of the Year in 1992 and became the second woman to qualify for the race. She has been a role model for many women aspiring to become race car drivers, breaking barriers and challenging the stereotypes of women in the sport. In 2022 she was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

Mary Barra

Mary Barra (Image courtesy of Mary Barra)

In 2014 Mary became CEO of General Motors, making her the first woman to run a major multinational automaker. She has been a part of GM since 1980 and has served in various executive capacities with the company.

Margie Petersen

Margie Petersen and her husband. (Image courtesy of Motor Trend magazine)

To honor her late husband, publisher Robert E. Petersen, Margie founded the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. It houses more than 300 vintage and collector cars in its collection. Her museum has become a vacation destination for many and has helped create a space that celebrates and preserves automotive history.

Alice Ramsey 

Alice Ramsey standing beside her car. (Image courtesy of Library of Congress)

Alice has a few claims to fame in the automotive world: she was the first woman to drive coast-to-coast in 1909, as well as the first woman to be inaugurated into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2000. Coast-to-coast at that time meant 150 or so miles of the 3,600 driven was on pavement. She went on to complete this journey 30 more times.

Dorothee Pullinger

Dorothee pictured with a Galloway car. (Image courtesy of BBC)

The daughter of the early auto designer Thomas Pullinger, Dorothee was interested in engineering her whole life. In 1910, she joined her father at Arrol-Johnston, the oldest and largest Scottish car manufacturer at that time. After WWI, she became the director of Galloway Motors Ltd. and helped produce the Galloway car for Arrol-Johnston, which was the first car designed especially for women. Dorothee was also an enthusiastic racer and won the cup in the Scottish Six Day Car Trials in 1924. The only Galloway car available for publish view in the UK is on display at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow.

The above women are but a few examples of the role models for upcoming generations of women automotive professionals. Their contributions to the automotive industry have been significant, and we celebrate them on this International Women’s Day. We must continue to recognize the accomplishments of women and advocate for gender equality in all industries. Together, we can create a more equitable and just world for all.



  1. You left out Janet Gutherie and Betty Skelton…and probably even more, that even I can’t remember How about Cha Cha Muldowney….and numerous other female racers, who’ve gotten lost in the pages of history…


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Recent Posts