Her name was Violette Morris, and she has quite the story to tell.
At five foot five, one hundred and fifty pounds with bazooka's taking up at least thirty of those pounds, she was an accomplished athlete – including weightlifting, boxing, racing – both motorcycles and cars, soccer, shot putt and the javelin were just a few of her athletic activities.
She was a nurse, ambulance driver and a courier in the war.
She was loved, then hated, then despised.
Youngest of six children born in 1893 to a well positioned family in France, she grew from her tomboy childhood into a spitting, swearing, male dressing lesbian who smoked three pack a day and was an impressive sized woman whose well-endowed looks likely stopped many an argument before it started.
It would seem only a handful of motor sport historians know who she is. Despite her life reading like a script straight out of a Hollywood movie no one really remembers her.
And if they do ... it is for the wrong reasons.
She should be remembered for her sporting achievements, but they've been overshadowed by her ... ahh poached egg like bazookas. Which met a horrible end, well before the rest of her did.
Even this was overshadowed by her role in the Gestapo in her later years.
Eventually, she was simply forgotten about or not talked about.
She was a women years ahead of society, she was a pioneer of women's athletics and a militant feminist - she had nothing to do with any traditional women roles ... and we know how history feels about those kinds of women.
Violette Paule Emilie Marie Morris was born in France in 1893 to a Baron and his wife, she was the youngest of his six daughters and likely the closest he was going to get in regards to having a male child.
At age ten she 'borrowed' a plumbers bike and went cycling, she loved it. Her parents though felt she needed some toughening up and straightening up and sent her to the L'Assomption De Huy, a convent.
During her time in the convent, she was competing in the highest levels of boxing, swimming, weightlifting, javelin, shot put and discus, she was only fifteen years old. Even at this early stage of her life her lifes motto was 'Anything a man can do, Violette can do'. This apparently also carried into her relationship choices, in that she preferred women herself.
Despite her preference in the sheets she married Cyprien Gouraud in 1914, just before the first war took hold. He was sent to the front and his wifes boxing club was now a nursing station for the Red Cross.
Credit: wikicommonsFor her part, she served as a nurse in the Battle of Somme but her true calling for the war came when she obtained her license and became first a motorcycle courier, then an ambulance driver in the Battle of Verdun.
The seed of speed was planted. Becoming ill herself she was sent back home.
Returning to the sports she loved, she played football for two different women's teams – Femina Sports from 1917 till 1919 and for Olympique de Paris for six years starting in 1920.
Despite being accused of distributing dope to players, she was invited to play for the French Women's National Soccer team and for the French National Water Polo team – which was not even a women's team. In 1923 competing in the French National Boxing Championship, she not only fought against men but won it too.
On top of all this, she also competed in tennis, archery, cycling, horse riding, wrestling, weightlifting and diving.
You know your good when your invited to play with, and beat, the boys in the early twentieth century.
Credit: wikicommonsIn 1922 she started to motor race. Finishing a decent fourth in the Bol d'Or on a clay track driving a 750cc Benjamin Ruby cyclecar. She also participated in the Il Trofeo Armangue of that same year and even though she came in eighth place, unlike many of the other participants, she at least finished the event. For a second time, she raced in the Bol d'Or in 1923 and finished seventh and third in class. Not bad for someone who only learned how to drive five or so years before.
She had always been a feminist, a strong women but after the War she started to lean more towards men's clothing, swore heartily, smoked heavily and would spit a lot. It's rumoured she had killed her lover whom she met in the War, and not surprisingly by 1923 found herself divorced from her husband Cyprien, who was a bookish book collector, not a society changing, pioneer type of guy.
The Beginning of a Spiral
By 1927 with all the different sports she participated in was resulting in her build becoming bulkier, almost manly – thick muscular neck and broad shoulders, massive thighs and her arms bulked up with muscles. Her attitude or behaviour changed, some saying it became highly un - sportsman like.
Credit: wikicommonsShe was using her fists during football matches, a pile of indiscretions and misdemeanours were growing and even her friends and team mates were starting to complain of her behaviour, disrespectful manner and actions. This was how she found herself excluded from the 1928 Olympics. Disappointed but not beaten she turned her attentions back to motor racing. The press was particularly cruel to her in their articles.
I would think that by now she was starting to take an emotional beating, particularly with being cut out of most of the sports in France, but that was not so. In 1928 after being denied a chance to take part in the Olympics, she finished third at Coppa Florio motor race at Sain Brieuc, took an out right win at the Bol d'Or, and came in third again in yet a different race.
During pit stops in the races, she managed to open her own business – an accessory shop for vehicles in Paris.
In 1929 she had a mastectomy performed, not due to cancer or health, but as she said, to race better – they got in the way. Whether this is true or not – the reasons not the actual surgery – by 1930 her racing career had ended, and she was excluded by the Federation of Women's Motor sports from racing.
Now she was close to finally beaten.
Credit: wikicommonsExcluded from motor sports and nearly every other sport she loved doing, she focused on getting her business to stay afloat and recover from the depression that swept Europe in 1929. She sold the store in 1934.
She tried singing - briefly. Even Josephine Baker couldn't save the songs.
Now she is beaten ... oh not yet.
The Downward Fall
When she fell, she really fell far and hard into the rabbit hole.
In 1936 she was invited, with full honours to attend the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, at the personal request of Adolph Hitler. In December of 1935, she had been recruited by Gertrude Hannecker a member of the Nazi Security Service.
She had already given Germany partial plans of the French military strategic points as well as schematics for the tank, the Somua S35, the French Armys tank that was used regularly in battles. That's right, turned from France and to Nazi Germany.
Not sure, she never openly expressed hatred for France or those who saw to her being denied entry to Credit: wikicommonsnearly all sporting events. I could see her being angry and not in her right mind after being denied access to sports - the one thing she truly loved and excelled at – angry and hurt and wanting to show France what they threw away. Perhaps she switched sides for no other reason than to be accepted, loved and famous again. Maybe she had finally cracked, then again perhaps she really identified with Nazi-ism or just being a thug.
A member of the Carlingue – officially a public procurement office; unofficially a French subsidiary of the Gestapo able to arrest and torture – she lived quite well, like all those who were members of the Carlingue.
Like most everything she did, she excelled at her job of penetrating resistance networks and with her widespread use of torture, earned herself the nickname “Gestapo's Hyena”.
On her way back to Paris from Normandy in April of 1944 driving a 'suped-up' Citroen, with Nazi friends and their children. Members of a French resistance cell, Surcouf, riddled her vehicle with bullets. She and the four other passengers died.
No family or friends came forward to claim her body and she was placed in a communal grave. Where ever so slowly her existence eroded from the history books.
Sure it was frowned on, not as accepted today, but neither was she strung up for it – she was regularly being acknowledged for her achievements and not her choice in the bed.
She did not get denied teams for her choice, but rather for her attitude, personality and behaviour.
I consider her an admirable women for being able to boldly and unashamed-ly embrace her chosen gender identity )the pictures clearly show a woman become more manly - whether it was emotional thing she felt or due to her rugged sporty lifestyle, don't know).
I find her to be an inspiring and fascinating woman, whose sport exploits opened doors and attitudes regarding women in sports.
But one has to admit in all that good, she left an overwhelming stench of Nazi supporter, brute and monster that tainted her achievements so badly she was basically removed from history, nearly completely forgotten today.
Her story, more so than many others, remind you that one or four crowing achievements can be lost in a single bad decision, how contradictory people can be and just how show and messy life can get. Credit: wikicommons