Leading Ladies; Alice Huyler Ramsey

February 18, 2016

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By Matt Wolfe

“Good driving has nothing to do with sex. It’s all above the collar.” –Alice Huyler Ramsey

On October 17, 2000, Alice Huyler Ramsey became the first woman ever to be inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame. Ramsey was the first woman to drive a car across the United States, a journey she and three other female passengers completed in 59 days when they arrived in San Francisco after departing from Manhattan, New York.

Ramsey was only 22 when she took her cross-country trek. A mother and housewife, Ramsey had always loved the open road. Her husband, John Ramsey, had gifted her a Maxwell Touring Car in 1908, and she became a common sight driving all over New Jersey. Very few women drove cars at this time, and Ramsey’s enthusiasm and composure behind the wheel caught the eye of some local Maxwell dealers.

It was then that the Maxwell Company approached the Ramsey’s with the idea to let Alice drive one of their cars across the country. The company wanted to prove that not only was their vehicle durable, but was also easy to operate and repair. Maxwell provided her a car, covered all the expenses and alerted dealers and media about the trip. They also allowed her to bring along her two sisters-in law and another girlfriend.

The quartet set off on their 3,800 mile journey on June 9th, 1909. Only 152 miles of the journey were on paved roads. The group navigated using maps from the American Automobile Association (AAA) and by telegraph poles, following them in hopes that would lead them to a city or town. During their journey, the group encountered a posse of sheriffs on the trail of a murderer, were surrounded by a Native American hunting party, and traversed numerous obstacles. Ramsey, who was the only person able to operate the vehicle, changed 11 tires, cleaned the spark plugs, mended a broken brake pedal and made numerous other repairs.

The group finally arrived in San Francisco on August 7, 1909, and were greeted by a large crowd of spectators. Ramsey would drive across the country more than 30 times during her life. She was named the “Woman Motorist of the Century” by AAA in 1960 and later wrote a book about her journey titled Veil, Duster and Tire Iron. “The first lady of Automotive Travel” passed away on September 10, 1983, in Covina, California.

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