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Even before they could vote, women played an integral role in the tire industry. When World War I commandeered men between 1914-1918, women manned the tire factories in the United States. 

Tires and Accessories, the predecessor to Modem Tire Dealer, ran a story on Mrs N.E. Love, a store manager bringing new ideas to St. Louis, when its first issue debuted in August 1919. And in the very next issue, we asked, “Do women fit in the tire trade?” The answer was yes, according to Mrs. Josephine Roberts, a store manager in Indianapolis.

But it wasn’t until 1919 that the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women suffrage, was adopted by a joint resolution of Congress. The amendment was ratified by our then 48 states the following year.

Over the years, women have become more visible in the tire trade as well as the political community. But that doesn’t mean they have always been acknowledged — much less accepted.

Linda South, co-owner of South Tire & Auto Service Inc. in Cocoa, Fla., since 1975, reminisces about the time a new customer came in and addressed the tire changer standing next to her. 

“Our tire changer turned to me to get the answer. The customer never looked at me. We carried on a full conversation through my tire changer!” 

How does she react to such behavior? “Depending on how my days have gone, it’s either humorous or infuriating. Dealing with the public is always a hoot." 

Terry Hawthorne, co-owner of Hawthorne Wholesale Tire in San Marcos, Calif., has had similar experiences. “Male customers would ask questions always looking at a male, even if it was a mechanic walking by. They couldn’t look me in the eye.” 

That lack of respect was not confined solely to customers, as Hawthorne discovered when she started out in 1981. 

“It can be very maddening to go out and tell your men — who you are paying — what to do and they don’t do it. It would be like talking to a wall.” 

Hawthorne has since proven herself to all parties involved. “A couple of years ago I had a lot of trouble with male customers I had to develop a philosophy on how to deal with them. 

“One day I was buying parts from a woman at a parts store, and I thought, ‘Oh, it’s a girl. She’ll probably get it wrong.’ 

“And that’s what helped me understand what the men were thinking because I had the same prejudice.”

Hawthorne’s mother, Rosemary Tucker, ran her own business, Tucker Tire Co. in Covina, Calif., for some 30 years “Men treated her so badly,” says her daughter. But with the help of a few friends in the industry, she persevered, and became very successful. 

“When I got into the business I wondered if the same thing would happen to me. Women like her paved the way for the next generation. It just wasn’t as bad for me, I don’t really worry about it at all any more.” 

South does what she can to improve relations between the tire-buying public and all tire dealers, regardless of gender. 

She is vice chairman of Honda’s Motor Vehicle Advisory Council. Its political agenda is to regulate the state’s motor vehicle repair industry. 

“We need to work toward enhancing the image of the automotive (repair) business,” she says. 

Lingering attitudes by some questioning their ability notwithstanding, a woman’s place in the tire industry is secure. 

Mrs. Roberts had no doubts about that 75 years ago. 

“If a woman makes a serious study of her business she can compete with the men in handling tires.” She was right.

 

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