July 5, 1916 – The Van Buren Sisters Begin Their Motorcycle Trip across America
On July 5, 1916,the Van Buren sisters Augusta and Adeline (Gussie and Addie) began day two of their 60-day motorcycle journey from New York City to Los Angeles. The “Society Girls” were descendants of President Martin Van Buren. At the time of their trek both women were in their 20s and active in the national Preparedness Movement. The women wanted to prove that women could ride as well as men and should be allowed to serve as military dispatch riders. As such men would be freed up for other tasks. Additionally, they hoped to remove one of the primary arguments for denying women the right to vote. They dressed in military-style leggings and leather riding britches for the ride. Such dress was taboo for women at the time. From Wikipedia….
They set out from Sheepshead Bay racetrack in Brooklyn, New York on July 4, riding 1,000 cc Indian Power Plus motorcycles equipped with gas headlights and arrived in Los Angeles on September 8 after having to contend with poor roads, heavy rains and mud, natural barriers like the Rocky Mountains and social barriers such as the local police who took offence at their choice of men’s clothing. They became the first women to reach the 14,109 feet summit of Pikes Peak by any motor vehicle. The Indians were the top of the range motorcycle at the time, selling for $275, and ran Firestone “non-skid” tires.
…Reports in the leading motorcycling magazine of the day praised the bike, but not the sisters and described the journey as a “vacation”. Other newspapers published degrading articles accusing the sisters of using the national preparedness issue as an excellent excuse to escape their roles as housewives and “display their feminine counters in nifty khaki and leather uniforms”. During the ride, they were arrested numerous times, not for speeding but for wearing men’s clothes. At one point, they became lost in the desert 100 miles west of Salt Lake City and were saved by a prospector after their water ran out. They completed their ride by traveling across the border to Tijuana in Mexico. Read More
Despite succeeding, the sister’s application to the military as a dispatch rider was rejected. Adeline and Augusta both eventually married. Adeline continued her career as an educator and earned a law degree from New York University. Augusta became a librarian and a pilot. She also flew with Amelia Earhart’s Ninety-Nines international women’s flying organization which played significant roles in the women’s rights movement!