Charles Franklin Kettering was born 135 years ago yesterday, on August 29, 1876, in Loudonville, Ohio. Kettering was one of a number of men whose inventions “liberated” women long before the modern women’s movement and feminism. Before the age of invention in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the simple tasks of running a household, which is what most adult women did, took most of their waking hours. Electric powered sewing machines, vacuum cleaners, washing machines and other home appliances significantly reduced the amount of labor and time needed to run the home. Refrigerators reduced the amount of time needed to shop for fresh food. By the 1910s, that tasks and drudgery that had formerly taken more time than a full time job to do, could be handled in much less time due to machines doing most of the labor. It’s not surprising, then that by the 1910s, the suffragette movement was in full swing. Women had time on their hands and wanted to be doing productive things.
To a liberated woman in 1912, the world had many more opportunities available to women than in their mothers’ and grandmothers’ ages. One of the effects of industrialization, the age of invention and consumer goods was that companies needed labor, women included. While jobs were usually gender segregated, there were indeed jobs available to women and they had their own incomes. One thing, though, stood in the modern woman’s way in 1912, driving. Or more specifically, the gasoline powered automobile.