Saturday, October 02, 2004

Pioneer Women Drivers


Alice Ramsey's Maxwell is pulled out of a ditch. [Photo: Peter Ramsey]

The idea of driving a horseless carriage across America in the beginning of the 20th century is inconceivably bold considering the lack of interstate highways, modern freeways, roadside restaurants, rest stops, AAA maps, let alone GPS. Dirt roads were still pitted with ruts left over from 19th century pioneer wagon wheels! Makeshift parts, on-the-spot repairs and tire changes were the norm. No gas stations, no mechanics, not a tow truck to be found anywhere (a block and tackle often came in handy in the muddy Midwest).


Alice and her companions checking their Maxwell. [Photo: Peter Ramsey]

Imagine the average man attempting such a road trip today, let alone a woman in the early 1900s. Twenty-two year old Alice Huyler Ramsey and three of her friends decided to do just that, starting from New York City, in a Maxwell, and nearly 2 months later arriving in San Francisco in triumph. These transcontinental drives caught on with yet more adventurous women of the day, including silent movie star Anita King. She became the first woman to make the coast-to-coast drive on her own. It was as much a sign of the burgeoning independent spirit of women as much as it was the triumph of long-distance travel via the new-fangled automobile.


[McFarland & Company]

This wonderful book by Curt McConnell which includes stories of five across-America drives, their day-by-day, mile-by-mile experiences, including archival newspaper articles and the women's own personal recollections, makes for fascinating reading.

["A Reliable Car and a Woman Who Knows It" is available at Amazon.com.]

[Photos and reference from America on the Move, © 2004 National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution]

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