Canadian army

What could be more surprising than the news of the war in 1944? Women allowed to drive taxis in Guelph

Someone came to the conclusion that if Rosie the Riveter could build ships and tanks, her sisters could drive taxis

On January 15, 1944, while Canada was embroiled in battle against the Axis powers, the Guelph Mercury published an article that was startling even among war reports. Magistrate Frederick Watt, chairman of the police commission, announced at its inaugural meeting that women would be allowed to drive taxis in Guelph.

Of course, there were already female drivers on Canadian roads, but they were the exception, and the notion that women were bad drivers had long been well established. Apparently, women were terrible drivers because they weren’t cut out to drive cars, being: too emotional to handle the stress of driving, too likely to pass out or pass out in a critical situation, too easily distracted, not smart enough for something as complicated as driving and knowing all the rules of the road, and not physically strong enough to comfortably operate a motor vehicle (there was no power steering or power brakes at the time).

When it came to winter driving, women were supposed to be unable to cope with the difficulties of snow and ice. Drowsy female driver jokes were commonplace for comedians. A classic George Burns and Gracie Allen comedy routine had ditzy Gracie asking for a driver’s license.

Driving a car was generally considered a man’s job. In most families, even if the wife knew how to drive, whenever she and her husband were both in the car, the driver’s seat was naturally hers. A real man wouldn’t let the little woman drive unless it was really necessary.

There were even more reasons why sitting behind the wheel of a taxi was not considered a place for a woman. Besides traffic hassles, taxi drivers also had to deal with passengers who could be impatient, angry, rude and generally uncivil. There were men who were visitors to town who expected taxi drivers to know where to take them if they were looking for a bit of “action”.

It wasn’t just that nice ladies weren’t supposed to know such places existed, let alone where to find them; there were also fears that female taxi drivers were targeted by men on the prowl.

The demands of World War II changed that. There were so many men in the armed forces that there was a shortage of manpower for jobs generally considered exclusively male. Women now did “men’s work” in factories, on construction sites and in primary industries.

Someone came to the conclusion that while Rosie the Riveter could build ships and tanks, her sisters could drive taxis. In addition, women drove trucks and jeeps for the Canadian army and ferried planes for the Royal Canadian Air Force. (A year from now, young Princess Elizabeth would be serving in the British Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service as a driver and mechanic.)

The Mercury report said:

“Responding to a call from two local taxi companies, requesting permission to employ women as drivers due to the shortage of men, the commission agreed to accede to the request, as a temporary measure, under specific conditions.”

One of the requirements was that each applicant for a taxi driver’s license had to be approved by Guelph Police Chief Harold Nash, but this was common in all communities in Ontario. The rule was intended not only to ensure that drivers could operate a motor vehicle safely and competently, but also to protect the public from “undesirables”. Men with criminal records would generally be denied a taxi driver’s license.

Another requirement stated that female taxi drivers in Guelph would be “restricted to the daytime period of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.” visitors to the city looking for “a bit of action”.

Of course, once women entered the driving profession, they were here to stay, in Guelph and everywhere else; not only in taxis, but also in trucks, buses and any other type of vehicle on wheels. Female passengers often specifically requested a female driver when phoning for a taxi, and there were examples of taxi companies employing only female drivers.

Statistics compiled by police departments and car insurance companies have shown that, far from being the giddy female drivers of old jokes, female drivers in general get fewer traffic violations than male drivers, are less more likely to be involved in traffic accidents than men and are less likely to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Not at all the stereotypical caricature of the 1940s.

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Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.