Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dorothy Levitt, Update

Dorothy Levitt was a secretary at the Napier Motor Company around 1903 when proprietor Selwyn Edge hit upon the idea of entering a woman in early Motoring events. Edge probably hoped that this would popularise the car with women and Dorothy soon proved herself an able and spirited driver. You can read about her on the excellent Speedqueens blog - here.

Soon Dorothy was an Edwardian celebrity but around the end of the decade she seems to have disappeared as quickly as she came into view. Despite being something of a feminist icon - check out my post on her only sporting foray into Radnorshire - and the subject of recent television shows, no-one really seemed bothered as to who she was or what became of her.

A couple of years ago I came up with the theory that Dorothy was actually a Jewish typist born Elizabeth Levi - my comment on this post sets out the reasons for the identification.

Now some genealogists with access to the probate records have confirmed the identification (see illustration above) - Elsie Ruby Lewis being shown through the BMD records to be Dorothy's or rather Elizabeth Levi's sister.

What became of Dorothy between 1913, when she had an apartment in Portman Mansions, and her death in 1922 remains a mystery.


Unknown said...

It's a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes. The final resting place of Dorothy Levitt?

What's the evidence to support her death in 1922?


radnorian said...

It's that will lifted from the public record via (entry pictured)

We know that Hena Frankton was involved in a road traffic accident reported in the Times while in a vehicle driven by THE Dorothy Levitt. In the 1901 Census Hena was living with a Levitt family - formerly Levi - who had two daughters Elizabeth and Elsie. The Elsie is the Elsie Lewis (you can prove this thru the BMDs)who is the administrator of Dorothy Elizabeth Levitt's will in 1922.

I guess someone should apply for site of this will.

Anonymous said...

Hello Radnorian,
You and Dorothy are being discussed on Wiki, (by me and AnnK), so I thought I'd post the 'Talk' here to forewarn you of her question. ... and because I would like to know the answer. Kind Regards, Chienlit.

Wiki stuff...
Query: Southport Speed Trials Advice please

I'm currently writing an article on Dorothy Levitt and would like to check the date in 1903 that Dorothy Levitt competed in the Southport Speed Trials. I would welcome advice from contributors to the Wikipedia article, which, by the way, I think is an excellent article.
Various sources give 4 July 1903 for the date that Dorothy competed in the Southport Speed Trials. However, I've been reading Dorothy's book The Woman and the Car, and in the introductory 'personal sketch' at the front of the book, which includes extracts from her motoring diary, she gives the date of the competition as 3 October 1903.
I'm sure contributors have seen Dorothy's book so I would be very grateful if anyone can shed light on this discrepancy. According to Dorothy's diary extracts, she became the first Englishwoman to take part in a 'motor car competition' in April 1903 ("Did not win. Will do better next time"). Did the Glasgow-London run in May 1903; won the Gaston Menier Cup, Trouville, France in August; did the 1000 Reliability Trials in September 1903, did Light Car Trials in September 1903, then in October 1903 competed in the Southport Speed Trials.
I look forward to hearing back from contributor(s).
Many thanks for your help. Ann K (----) — Preceding unsigned comment added by Annk (talk • contribs) 22:03, 15 February 2012 (UTC)
Hi Ann K,
Liverpool Motor Club - History says that they ran their first trial on 4 July 1903. The site does not mention when they ran a second trial but it seems unlikely that it was only 3 months later in an age before email. I suggest that you write to them and ask. Good luck. Chienlit (talk) 16:37, 25 February 2012 (UTC)
Your questions about her intense competitive schedule for 1903 is both interesting and lead to a possibility of a rewrite/caveat. Although I wrote much of the article I used nothing other than online sources, and I have spent several years watching bits of my prose permeate the internet so that 3 July 1903 is now 'the truth'. I suggest that you raise your question at Radnorian's blog Radnorian because he appears to be a clear thinker with a mass of archive material about that period. Good luck. Chienlit (talk) 16:52, 25 February 2012 (UTC)

radnorian said...

Yes, both the Times and the Guardian for Monday 5th October 1903, confirm that the Southport Trials were held on the 2nd and the 3rd of that month. As reported Dorothy won her class (for cars costing between £400 and £550) in S F Edge's 12 hp Gladiator - the heats were on the Friday with the finals on the Saturday.

There is no record in either paper of Dorothy competing in a July event at Southport and no record of such an event taking place on that date which I can find in either paper.

Peter said...

Many thanks, Brilliant and insightful as always. I am minded to now correct the Wiki page, as it was me who got it wrong in the first place, although as every statement was diligently sourced and cited from the internet it's a bit of a shock to find that not every fact is true. (:o) But before I make the updates, do you know what the was that she competed in in April 1903? ("Did not win. Will do better next time") terrific spirit.
Thanks again, Chienlit

Peter said...

Hi, I am about as sharp as an energy efficient light bulb, within a few hours of an event I begin to understand.

Many thanks for your url answer about the Times and Guardian this morning.


radnorian said...

No sorry, haven't found any info re the April 1903 event.

annkramer said...

Thanks to Old Radnor for confirming the October date for Dorothy's entry in the Southport Speed Trials. I had seen The Times coverage, and read the preface to The Woman and the Car but have not seen the Guardian. I don't know what the April event was in 1903 - the only reference I've found to it is in the preface to The Woman and the Car, which includes extracts from Dorothy's diary, but my personal view is that it was then that Edge saw Dorothy Levitt and decided to use her as a works driver/promotion icon. I personally believe that she learned to drive independently of Edge but have no hard proof to back that up.

radnorian said...

Ann - if you can access the online 19th Century British Library Newspapers, I would guess this is accessible via Gale Databases from many libraries, there is a full page biographical sketch of Dorothy in the November 17th 1906 edition of the Penny Illustrated Paper.

Now the article may not be forthcoming about her origins but it does say that Dorothy was sent by Edge to a Paris manufacturer for six months at the age of 20 to learn something about the motor trade.

This would suggest she learnt to drive there, perhaps at one of the firms linked to Edge - De Dion Bouton or Gladiator perhaps.

On her return to London the story has her teaching wealthy ladies how to drive. Now having a female instructor, and later competitor, sounds like a good business move ... so maybe this is what happened?

Peter said...

Hello Ann and Old Radnor,
Jerome Vincent's play on Radio 4 was 'fiction persuasively rich in facts and colour' ... and it seemed to burn itself into my memory. I am pretty sure that JV implied that Edge taught her to drive and sent her to Paris - good ways to recruit a new mistress - although the events were a long time apart and she also drove Gladiators and De Dions in the interim.

Presumably DL's regular columns in The Graphic would show a more clear chronology.


Anonymous said...

Have enjoyed these posts as I am writing a book about Dorothy Levitt's contemporary, Joan Newton Cuneo. Wish I had access to British newspapers of the early 20th century as I know Joan traveled to Britain to look at cars in 1914. She was very famous in the US at this time and I suspect that she was also know in European racing circles. If anyone runs across her I would love to hear about it.

annkramer said...

Thanks to Old Radnor again for information. As soon as time allows I will go to the British Library newspaper archive in Colindale to read through the Daily Graphic. I've emailed them to check they hold issues and, of course, they do.

captaintee said...

Just came across your blog. I found Dorothy through my genealogy as my lineage is another son of Ralph Raphael Dorothy's Gt Grandfather. I have been in contact with AnnK and would like to be kept in any updates. I also live near Colindale so let me know the papers required.

Melinda Good said...

Hi, Dorothy Elizbeth LEVITT was an ancestor of mine.
I have a copy of her death certificate details of which follow:
She died 17th May 1922 at 50 Upper Baker Street, London aged 38 years (She was actually born in 1882)
Her occupation is given as Spinster, Independent daughter of Jacob LEVI, Independent.
Cause of death is given as:
Found dead in bed. Morphine poisoning while suffering from heart disease and an attack of measles. Misadventure.
Under the informant coloumn it says:
Certificate received from N. R. Oswald Coroner for London. Inquest held 20 May 1922.
I have tried to references in the newspapers of the time to no avail.
Melinda G

captaintee said...

Still trying to contact Melinda Good about Dorothy Levitt

Unknown said...

Hi Melinda, great to meet you! I would love to ask you some questions about Dorothy and share some information I've uncovered. You can reach me at Thank you!