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The Lady Motorist

May 12, 2021

“Pretty Women Motorists Arrive After Trip Across the Continent,” read the San Francisco Chronicle headline in August 1909. The article referred to a group led by twenty-two-year-old Alice Huyler Ramsey, the first woman to drive across the country.

Just a few months earlier, Ramsey’s driving skills had caught the attention of a representative from the Maxwell-Briscoe Company, one of the prominent automakers of the day. The company was bent on proving that their cars were built to handle a trip across the United States—and that their cars were so easy to handle, even a woman could do it.

Ramsey accepted the challenge. She left New York on June 9 in a 1909 Maxwell Model DA. Her “crew” consisted of her two sisters-in-law and a nineteen-year-old friend. With Ramsey at the wheel, they braved thousands of unpaved miles as well as several tire blowouts, an overheated radiator, and a broken coil. “Get a horse!” a man shouted at one point as they waited by the side of the road for a repair.

Ramsey’s arrival in San Francisco that August was hailed by the San Francisco Chronicle thus: “as remarkable an automobile trip as any ever undertaken in this country.” By the time she rolled into the Bay Area to be ferried across the Bay and greeted at the St. James Hotel, Ramsey was a national phenomenon.

Her backers couldn’t have been more pleased. “The car for a lady to drive,” proclaimed Maxwell-Briscoe.

Ramsey went on to complete thirty more cross-country road trips. Her memoir Veil, Duster, and Tire Iron details her “maiden voyage” of 1909. On October 17, 2000, Ramsey became the first woman inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.