Let's get this out of the way right up front: this remarkable woman, Violette Morris, ended her life as something of a monster, in service to the Gestapo. She is absolutely fascinating, inspiring, and humbling, but make no mistake— her story does not end on a high note.
But it is one hell of a story.
Violette Morris was a gifted athlete: an Olympic discus-thrower, footballer, archer, wrestler, water-polo player, and boxer, where she often competed against (and whupped) men. She was a racer as well, in the purest sense of the word, racing horses, bikes, motorcycles, cars, and even airplanes. She was an out lesbian in the 1910s and 1920s. And, yes, she had her boobs removed so she could fit in tiny, dangerous racecars better.
She's the best argument for changing the idiom "[he] has balls" to some non-gendered body part. Because everything we mean when we say "balls," she had, even if she didn't literally have any.
Violette Morris used to say "Whatever a man can do, Violette can do," and this was absolutely true for motorsports. Auto racing in general takes a great deal of guts, determination, stamina, and skill. Even the laughably minuscule amount of racing and track work I've done has been enough to give me enormous respect for anyone who competes. But I can almost guarantee anyone competing in motorsports today would soil their fireproof suits at the prospect of what racing was like in Violette's time.
Violette learned how to drive during WWI, where she drove an ambulance at the brutal Battle of Verdun, the one type of driving that must have been more dangerous than racing at that time.
Violette competed primarily in cyclecar endurance races, most notably the Bol D'Or, a 24-hour endurance race for motorcycles and cars in France. The track was a three-mile clay loop. The cyclecars she raced were light, wildly crude things— picture strapping an engine and four motorcycle wheels to an iron cot and you have a pretty fair idea of what these things were like. Violette started racing in a Benjamin cycelcar in 1922 (she took 4th place in her class, and set a lap record) and later drove BNCs to win the Bol D'Or in 1927. That next year, after being denied the chance to participate in the '28 Olympics due to her unabashed masculine dress, persona, and pretty open homosexuality, she opened a BNC cyclecar accessory store, and also had her famous double mastectomy that same year, allowing her to fit in the cramped car cockpits and drive with greater ease.
During this time she still played football/soccer competitively, and stayed in shape with three packs of cigarettes a day. Sort of like kicking her own lungs' asses to keep them working hard, I guess. She became more and more muscular and heavy, and brought a lawsuit against the French Women's Sporting Federation that denied her a license (keeping her out of the Olympics) on the charge of wearing a man's suit. The inane charge was really just an excuse to exclude her for her outside-the-norm gender behavior and relationships with women.
The press was pretty cruel to her, and even though she was pals with Paris celebs like Josephine Baker (she even sang with her!), public opinion was never that strong with her and her lawsuit was dismissed.
When WWII came around, Violette, having lost her cyclecar accessory business in the Depression of 1929, was living a lower-profile life giving driving lessons. After France was annexed by Germany, Morris worked in the black market, smuggling hams and booze, driving fast, and punching people when needed. Her skillset and attitude made her a ripe target for the French Gestapo, who recruited her.
Perhaps it was her shabby treatment by French society that made her willing to join the Nazi effort. I'm not offering that as an excuse, just a possible impetus. When the Nazis recruited her, they arranged for her to attend the 1936 Olympics as a VIP, which surely must have been a stark contrast to her past experience. She worked as a spy and in taking down resistance networks, and was feared for her use of torture, earning the nickname "the Gestapo's Hyena."
She was eventually gunned down behind the wheel of a supercharged Citröen in 1944. There's no doubt she deserved the bullet, but she also deserved to die doing something she loved, driving fast.
Violette Morris is one of those people that remind you just how messy and contradictory life and people really are. She's a pioneering, admirable woman, both as an auto racer and role model for living your gender identity boldly and unashamedly, but, let's face it, the woman was also a brute and a monster.
More importantly: why hasn't anyone made a movie about her? What the hell more would you want? Car chases, Nazis, lesbianism— isn't that the formula for box office gold right there?