Alice Ramsey – 1909, the first all-female road trip across the US!
Setting out from Hells Gate in Manhattan on June 9, 1909, Alice Huyler Ramsey, who was then a 22 year old married mother of a toddler, set off with a female friend and two older sisters-in-law on a cross country journey in a green Maxwell 30 to San Francisco, California. The car maker Maxwell-Briscoe planned the 3600 mile trip as a publicity stunt. This was indeed a bold move, as women were generally discouraged from driving cars at that time. In fact, Alice Ramsey was the only woman on the trip who knew how to drive.
Various accounts state that she either had American Automobile Association maps, or that she had no maps at all. Either way, only 152 miles of this trip were driven on paved roadways. Unfathomable to embark on such a trip without reliable resources! Indeed, she needed to rely on her wits and automotive skills to navigate, change tires (11 in all), clean the spark plugs, and repair a broken brake pedal. Generally, the women navigated by following the path of telephone poles, hoping that they would lead to the nearest town. Some nights they had to sleep in the car over the course of their 59 day excursion.
By every measurement the trip was a great success, and they were welcomed at the St. James Hotel in San Francisco with excessive fanfare at the end of their odyssey on August 7th. Along the way it is said that they crossed the trail of a manhunt for a killer while driving through Nebraska, and came upon a Native American hunting party with bows and arrows drawn in Nevada. None of these incidents caused these pioneering ladies to turn back! In 1960 AAA named Ramsey the “Woman Motorist of the Century.” In all, Alice drove across the country more than 30 times, but I imagine that her first trip was by far the most memorable!
A children’s book ‘Alice Ramsey’s Grand Adventure’ by Don Brown gives a thorough telling of this often-overlooked American automotive pioneer.