Prescriptive Literature

Prescriptive literature is also known as advice literature, and in as soon as autos arrived on the market, literature about their usage appeared in massive quantity.  Prescriptive literature on motoring and autocamping became more prevalent toward the late 1910s, yet its audience remained limited until the mid-1920s because automobiles themselves had not become widely accessible until that point.  At that time, prescriptive literature also became accessible by a wider demographic, starting with men.

Early on, men were viewed as key consumers of the automobile, and as such, the advice was largely oriented to them in magazines that were aimed at male readers, such as Field and Stream and The Outlook. [i]  These two magazines were marketed to the wealthier crowd of men, in their advertisements to gain new subscribers they boasted a readership of “high business executives” and “professional men” like the Carnegies and Rockefellers.[ii]  As the price of cars decreased, largely due to their mass production, advice on motoring and motoring activities began to appear in popular lifestyle magazines aimed at the middle-class.  These magazines established columns on how to drive, where to drive, what to bring when driving, what to wear when driving and about automobiles in general.  Soon, publishers founded magazines specifically on those topics, such as Motor Camper and Tourist, and some automobile manufacturers, including Ford, began to produce their own brand-specific motor magazines as well.[iii]

There is no denying that women were car consumers as well; even if they did not physically purchase them, they often had a say in the purchase of the family car, and they used the autos as passengers.[iv]  Once car companies realized this, advice literature aimed at women began to appear in magazines such as Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Home Companion, and parenting magazines.  The appearance of these materials in popular publications marked a shift in who society accepted as being able to go on motor and autocamping trips, but this did not mean that women (no matter the age) became common as drivers on the road at that time, but more on that in an upcoming post.


[i] Clay McShane, Down the Asphalt Path: The Automobile and the American City (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 155.

[ii] “Subscription Advertisement for The Outlook,” Everybody’s Magazine, November 1920, 92.

[iii] Kathleen Franz, Tinkering: Consumers Reinvent the Early Automobile (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), 2, 9.

[iv] James J. Flink, The Automobile Age (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990), 163.

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3 Responses to Prescriptive Literature

  1. Jim says:

    My grandparents were married in 1936. My grandmother selected every automobile her family owned; she took Grandpa to the dealer just to sign the papers. This is a little later, of course, than your “target years” but not by that much.

    • Thanks for stopping by! This isn’t off my target years by much at all. My thesis did use a few sources from the early 1930s. I’m always glad to hear of real-life examples of female automobile-purchasing-power, because they were key deciders in many of a household’s purchases, that the car really shouldn’t be that much different. It is around the mid-1930s that manufacturers do start to advertise cars to women, realizing this purchasing power, rather than using women in ads geared to men to show how easy a car is to drive.

  2. Pingback: Automobiles, Advertisements and Gender Stereotypes « Three Months By Car

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