Alice Ramsey and her friends did just such a journey.
Things didn’t work out that way.
You are going to be the first woman ever to drive an automobile across the United States of America, from Hell Gate on the Atlantic to the Golden Gate on the Pacific… and in a Maxwell!
Willing hands reached for the crank handle at the front end but, suddenly recalling that this was to a women’s expedition, I said, Wa-a-it a minute! We’d better get ourselves started!
She maintained that attitude throughout the entire journey, doing repairs herself, taking full command in an age when women generally took a backseat.
This was also in an age when not everyone appreciated the automobile. In fact, one farmer changed the color of his house from the yellow notated in the Blue-Book, to green simply to throw drivers off track.
I never could figure out how he knew in what town he would find us!
I’ll drive every inch of the way if it kills me! To me, it would have been cheating of a sort to use railroad transportation for part of the journey across the continent.
Not once did Alice relinquish the wheel, not when she had to drive straight down into an arroyo, or when a prairie dog hole caused the bolt to come out of the tie rod, not even when she had to climb near vertical hills. She wanted every mile, to be her mile. It was her job. And she succeeded.
Alice, Nettie, Margaret, and Hermine arrived in San Francisco on August 7th, to great fanfare. After two months on the road, the women had achieved their goal.
What a day! But for that matter, what a journey!–a prelude to the thousands of women drivers who would later make this same trip–in much shorter time–from hell Gate to the Golden Gate!
From one car lovin’ girl to another, thank you Alice, for blazing the path.
So was the publicity stunt successful for Maxwell? Judging by the numbers, I’d say so. 20,500 Maxwell’s were sold in 1910, up from 9,460 in 1909. Pretty good jump! By 1925, though, the Chrysler Company absorbed Maxwell. Sadly, no one knows what happened to the car Alice and her friends drove across country.
Years After the Epic Journey
Your feat… helped unleash those forces which have put America and the rest of the civilized world on rubber-shod wheels. That trip through an all but trackless land helped mightily to convince the skeptics that automobiles were here to stay–rugged and dependable enough to command any man’s respect, gentle enough for the daintiest lady.
Alice released her autobiography in 1961. Searching for what she did in the years after the historic run, I found a Reno newspaper article from 1974, when she visited the Harrah’s automobile collection. What I particularly liked about the article was how she shot down the notion of being a women’s libber. She wasn’t trying to prove anything, she did what she did because she wanted to. Nothing more. THAT’s my kinda attitude!
Alice Huyler Ramsey passed away at age 94 in Covina, California after living a long and amazing life, during which, she continued to drive cross-country, doing it more than 30 times, even crossed five of the six Alp crossings until her doctor put a stop to it. Finally, in 2000, they inducted Alice into the Automotive Hall of Fame, the first woman. About damned time!
Alice Ramsey’s journey made a huge impact on me. There’s a scene in Alice’s book, somewhere in Iowa, when a lone woman in a sunbonnet sits in her horse-drawn wagon along their path. When the women in the Maxwell approached, she asked if they were the women driving from New York to San Francisco. When they affirmed her assumption, she said:
I’m sure glad. I read about you in the paper and I’ve come six miles to see you and I’ve been waiting a long time. Yes, I’m sure glad I saw you.
This particular passage struck a deep cord. What an inspiration these women were! I can see myself back in 1909, wanting to make the same kind of effort to witness women making history, as did this woman in Iowa.
I wanted to reflect that pioneering, have-no-fear spirit into a novel, and so, Alice’s story became the driving force for my character Emily in the current novel my agent is shopping. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter to get updates on the progress.
And by ALL MEANS… read Alice Ramsey’s book, VEIL, DUSTER, AND TIRE IRON. You won’t regret it. It’s not easy to find the original printing, but the novel’s reprint, Alice’s Drive, and is readily available on Amazon.
Yes. I am wearing an Alice Ramsey T-Shirt. I’m a little obsessed.
Fiction for people who love things that go VROOM!