“Good driving has nothing to do with sex. It’s all above the collar,”
Alice Huyler Ramsey
What a statement.
It was made 103 years ago by Alice Huyler Ramsey, a 22-year-old wife and daredevil who is the first woman to drive a car across the transcontinental United States.
Of course, nowadays, driving from New York to San Francisco is no big deal, and certainly would not make history. In 1909, however, drivers along the same 3,600-mile course averaged 63 days. Lack of highways and paved ways were just a few of the obstacles. Also, no woman was behind the wheel.
A sales manager for the Maxwell-Briscoe car dealership local to Alice approached her about being the first woman to make the journey. Alice’s husband, Congressman John Ramsey, earlier had purchased her a Maxwell, in which she was notorious for driving around town. This was newsworthy because Alice was a woman, and very few woman drove in 1909.
The sales manager offered to sponsor her trip across country. He believed the exposure would convince more woman to drive. After all, he was promoting a car that was “designed for women.” The Maxwell 30 was “perfectly simple and simply perfect,” according to its promotional literature. We are glad it was designed for simple minds.
Alice, our daredevil, jumped at the chance, and with the support of her husband – who never learned to drive, btw – was off. The dealership furnished her with a brand new Green Maxwell 30, a 30-horsepower 4-cylinder 4-seater that could reach speeds of 30 miles an hour. (It would be awhile before Alice reached the city by the bay.)
Alice was also equipped with an itinerary that included stops at Maxwell dealerships along the way. Each stop was a big “meet and greet,” which was documented by the press car that followed Alice. She was joined in the vehicle by two sisters-in-law and a female friend, none of whom drove. So, it was not the most solo expedition on earth, but it was still remarkable, and, it doubled sales of the the Maxwell 30.
Here are some of the additional “bumps in the road” Alice et al endured in her 59-day road trip:
Only 152 miles of the 3,600 were paved.
Alice had to sleep in the car one night because it was stuck in mud.
She alone changed 11 tires.
She changed numerous spark plugs.
She needed assistance fixing a broken brake pedal.
In Nebraska, her route took her into the path of a manhunt for an accused murderer.
Alice got bedbugs from a motel room in Wyoming.
In Nevada, a group of Native Americans surrounded Alice’s party, with bows and arrows drawn.
This all happened 11 years before Alice had a right to vote
When Alice pulled up to the St. James Hotel in SF, this day in 1909, she was treated to a heroine’s welcome. Bands played. Balloons flew. The mayor greeted her. Crowds formed to see the first woman to drive cross country.
Alice continued to make transcontinental trips for decades, enjoying the adventures along the way. Emily Anderson, a Seattle woman, tried to duplicate Alice’s journey on the 100th anniversary. You can read about it here and here. Of course, conditions were different, but sounds like she had a great time. Check out the photos, keeping in mind that the Golden Gate Bridge did not yet exist when Alice pulled up on the West Coast.
A quick aside, women in Saudi Arabia are still forbidden to drive. We’ve come a long way as a gender, yet we still have a long way to go.
Not to worry, just like Alice did, we’ll get there.
xo, Louisa May Alcatt