Monday, December 12, 2011

The Wheel of Progress - Shaima Jastaniah and Anne French Bush

If all politics is local, then a writer in Concord, MA is correctly connecting Shaima Jastaniah's case with the pioneering driving life of Anne French Bush, the first American woman known to have obtained a driver's license. Below is the text (link is here)  Concord Patch writer Maureen Belt writes today about the life of Anne French Bush, noting that today is the appeal day for Shaima Jastaniah's lashing case. Stay tuned to see if she appeals. Meanwhile, enjoy the story. (I blogged about visiting the cemetery in this blog post).

The Wheel of Progress - Maureen Belt
Concord, MA - December 12, 2011

As you know, I can go on and on about the wonderful things about Concord and I am always amazed at how I can link our community into the news of the day. Here’s a for instance. Today, Dec. 12 is “appeal day,” for Shaima Jastaniah, the 34-year-old Saudi woman who was caught driving in her hometown of Jeddah in September, and sentenced by her conservative government to 10 lashes. Shaima was hardly joy riding, she was on her way to visit someone in the hospital. Her crime was simply driving while female, a serious offense in Saudi Arabia. Her punishment, if today’s appeal falls through, is being publicly whipped on the back 10 times.

There are hundreds of blogs and news stories about Shaima’s plight, which her supporters hope pave the way for all women in Saudi Arabia to have the right to drive. Some of the more right-winged conservatives of the Kingdom believe authorizing women to drive a vehicle automatically reduces the number of virgins while spontaneously spiking the number of divorces and promiscuous women. (Reflect on that next time it’s your turn to carpool, ladies.)

This world news made me think of Anne Rainsford French Bush, the first known woman to receive a drivers license in the United States. Anne, who was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in 1962, was licensed in March 1900 to drive a four-wheeled steamed or gas-powered vehicle. Anne Rainsford French was living in Washington, D.C., at the time and learned to drive from her father, a renowned physician who let her take his locomobile out solo.

In a 1952 Life magazine article, Anne said her mother was a little concerned about her daughter behind the wheel, fearing that “no gentleman would be interested in any lady who didn’t stay where she belonged and act like one.” Hmmm. Sounds a little like the flack Shaima Jastaniah is receiving. Fortunately, Mrs. French’s fears did not keep Anne off the road, and though Anne did not drive too much longer, she paved the way for women pretty much everywhere to get behind the wheel of a car and take control of their destinations.

Anne married Walter Meiggs Bush and they settled in Concord and raised a family. According to the Life article, Walter did all of the driving during their marriage, even when his wife reminded him she was this country’s first female licensed driver. When she asked him to let her drive, he told her, “Driving is man’s business. Women shouldn’t get soiled by machinery.”

Even though Anne endured such comments from her husband, she never had to worry about being publicly humiliated or physically harmed for getting behind the wheel of a car. Instead, Anne got some serious mileage out of being the first woman licensed driver. She was named Miss Locomobile for 1900, and was honored at the AAA Golden Jubilee event in 1952, and has her name in the U.S. history archives. Here’s hoping as bright a future awaits Shaima Jastaniah in Saudi Arabia today.

(Some interesting side notes about Anne. She was the niece of Daniel Chester French and he used her as a model for, among other projects, the “America” statue that stands with the sculptor’s Continents collection outside the Old U.S. Custom House in New York City’s Battery Park. Here is more on Anne from Harry Beyer’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery series.)

You can e-mail the author Maureen Belt at:



  2. Thanks for posting this --- next entry will be about the 'honk for Saudi women' campaign.