Road trip to the dawn of an era: women drive cross-country in 1909
The rain was a drag.
In a photo just before heading out for the first-ever all-female cross-country race, Alice Huyler Ramsey and her companions are draped in rubber ponchos and tight bouquets outside the Maxwell auto showroom on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Her sisters-in-law seem to be stricken with grief. Ramsey beams from the side.
Ramsey, a 22-year-old girl from Hackensack, was set to leave her husband and one-year-old for the epic girls’ journey. This would be the responsibility of the Maxwell-Briscoe Company.
“It sounded like a wonderful adventure,” Ramsey wrote of the trip in his 1961 book, Sail iron, feather duster and tire. “And – I liked it.
Born in Hackensack in 1886, Ramsey was an excellent mechanic, says Katherine Parkin, a professor at Monmouth University who wrote Women driving in 2017. Ramsey had the support – both financial and emotional – of her husband, John Rathbone Ramsey, a lawyer more than double her age whom she married after two years at Vassar College.
John, who was an elderly lawyer she met as a teenager. did not drive. Nonetheless, he bought Ramsey his first car, a red 1908 Maxwell, after a car terribly frightened his horse. She took the Roofless Roadster in New Brunswick, took two lessons and never looked back.
In the summer of 1908, Ramsey drove 6,000 miles on the dirt and crushed stone highways near his summer rental in Asbury Park, Parkin says. In the fall, Ramsey was running, The record reported. “She has difficulties. She has determination and loves to drive, ”says Parkin. “The car was freedom. It was adventure and, at the time, the life of women was very prescribed.
Ramsey’s first endurance race from Manhattan to Montauk Point in 2008 Maxwell caught the attention of company representative Cadwallader “Carl” Kelsey. Kelsey led Maxwells up the stairs to draw attention to the brand, but he had a bigger stunt in mind. In Ramsey, he found the perfect driver. Kelsey told him categorically: she would drive a Maxwell across America.
“I was completely numb,” Ramsey wrote. “He might as well have said I would fly to the moon the following week!”
Ramsey agreed and set off more than six months later – June 9, 1909 – in a dark green Maxwell. The red stayed in New Jersey. It is now restored on loan to LeMay – America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington, alongside a dark green 1909 Maxwell that made a trip across the country in 2009 as a tribute to Ramsey. Renée Crist, the museum’s collections curator, says the rare Maxwells are a popular attraction.
“It’s one of our showcases,” says Crist. “The ’08 is magnificent. It is just a magnificent and very rare example. All of these Maxwells are pretty rare, but they were popular back then … and mostly because of their publicity. “
The 1909 that made the trip, like all cars of the time, had little to say for itself. It had four cylinders and three speeds. Its roof was a glorified umbrella. He only made 30 horsepower. Perhaps more importantly, he wore four: Ramsey, president of the Women’s Motoring Club of New York; her older and adventurous sisters-in-law, Nettie Powell and Margaret Atwood; and his 19-year-old partner, Hermine Jahns.
The frock-coated quartet left the relatively well-groomed New York City roads outfitted in hats, goggles, dust collectors, and tire chains. The need for the equipment quickly became clear. Country roads, little more than trails by modern standards, made the trip a tough job. On their best day, the women rode 198 miles. At worst, they only succeeded 4.
The group spent nearly two weeks crossing Iowa. In Nebraska, where the roads looked like “okra,” the Maxwell was twice mined out of mud within a mile. “The farmer’s son grabbed one of their horses in the pasture and took us out – for a fee – then walked to the next hole, repeated his tow, but doubled his fare! Ramsey wrote.
Ramsey performed tire changes after blowouts and standard maintenance throughout the trip. Yet a network of local mechanics drawn up by the Maxwell-Briscoe Company were also consulted with engine problems, a broken axle and other damage. Mistakes have been made. The car ran out of gas. At one point, Atwood and Powell were forced into roadside duty. They used their silver toiletry holders to fill the radiator with trickle down.
Often covered in mud, the women slept happily in hotels and ate in restaurants when they could. However, the shore of an Iowa stream once served as housing. In Utah, coffee, cornflakes, and canned tomatoes were enough for a morning meal.
Throughout the course the maps were unstable and the signs were missing. In the East, Ramsey relied on Blue Books which relied on questionable navigation benchmarks. The yellow house near Cleveland, for example, was painted green after a mischievous owner posted it. To stay on the populated paths, Ramsey often followed the route with the highest concentration of telegraph wires.
The West has turned out to be wilder.
Dukakis:Olympia Dukakis, former resident of Montclair, deceased at 89
Paterson:‘Nothing has changed’: Paterson has long history of police brutality – and calls for reform
For subscribers:Wayne teachers union leader sues school board official alleging slander
Without Blue Books or reliable maps, and only six years after Horatio Jackson’s transcontinental campaign in 1903, Ramsey sometimes relied on local drivers hired by the Maxwell-Briscoe Company to provide navigation. Still, she had to go back several times, including a time when she was driven into a sandbox and then into a mine. It was en route to Opal, Wyoming, where bed bugs ruined a night’s sleep for Ramsey and Jahns.
Despite the daily hardships, the significance of the event has not been lost from Ramsey. In his book, Ramsey noted the crowds that gathered to see them in Detroit, the young Western Union telegraph page who froze while passing through Chicago, and the Maxwells escort who brought them to downtown San Francisco. , lined with spectators.
The group arrived on August 7 after approximately 3,800 miles and 59 days, The record reported. Ramsey, who expected to make the trip in about a month, said she drove 41 days mainly due to Jahn’s illness during the trip. Ramsey came home by train.
The success of the trip was important to the Maxwell-Briscoe company. While not disclosing the car’s service history to the public, the company claimed the trip proved their cars could travel safely anywhere with a young woman at the wheel – always a selling point for cars today, Parkin notes. People weren’t generally impressed with Ramsey, she said.
Criticized for leaving her young son in the care of his nanny for two months, Ramsey was overlooked for being the 10th person to complete the cross-country attempt, Parkin says. Ramsey’s trip also coincided with a cross-country race. The most popular exhibit featured a large cash prize donated by Mr. Robert Guggenheim.
Ramsey’s story reached legendary status 50 years later – perhaps in another effort to sell cars to women, Parkin says.
In October 1960, Ramsey was named “Woman Motorist of the Century” by the American Automobile Association and “First Lady of Automotive Travel” by the Association of Automobile Manufacturers. The move allowed the industry to show its support for women at a time when Americans were taking road trips and women were gaining influence over consumers, Parkin says. It was, however, a belated recognition for a real pioneer or automobile adventure, she adds.
Before her death in 1983 at the age of 97, Ramsey, a mother of two, made more than 30 trips from coast to coast. She drove five of the six passes in the Swiss Alps and stayed behind the wheel until she was 95. In 2000, Ramsey became the first woman to be inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan.