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Ramsey, Alice Huyler (1886–1983)

Ramsey, Alice Huyler (1886–1983)

First woman to drive across the United States. Born in Hackensack, New Jersey, on November 11, 1886; died in Covina, California, on September 10, 1983; graduated from Vassar College, 1907; married John Rathbone Ramsey (a lawyer); children: at least one son and one daughter, Alice Ramsey Bruns.

Born in Hackensack, New Jersey, Alice Huyler Ramsey graduated from Vassar College in 1907 and soon married and had her first child, a boy. She was president of the Women's Motoring Club of New Jersey when the Maxwell-Briscoe Company, makers of automobiles, offered to sponsor her and provide a car if she would drive across the country. Ramsey was game, and on June 6, 1909, she set off from New York City in a Maxwell touring car, beginning a 3,800-mile cross-country trip from New York City to San Francisco. She was accompanied in the open car by three passengers, Margaret Atwood, Hermione Johns and Nettie R. Powell . None of them knew how to drive, so Ramsey handled all of it alone. With advance publicity provided by an editor at the Boston Herald, her journey was closely watched both nationally and in the small towns she drove through. Despite rain (they spent 12 days in Iowa, unable to drive because of muddy roads), a mishap involving their front tires and a prairie dog hole, mountains and bad roads, Ramsey and her friends completed the trip in 41 days, reaching San Francisco on August 8, 1909. They had gone through 11 sets of cloth tires. At that time, only about two dozen automobiles had completed coast-to-coast runs, and Ramsey was the first woman even to attempt such a feat.

Alice Ramsey continued driving for the rest of her life, and eventually made nearly 30 more cross-country trips by car. In her later years, she lived in Covina, California; at the age of 90, still driving, she had never had an accident. She died in Covina on September 10, 1983. In October 2000, Ramsey became the first woman inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

sources:

Holmstrom, David. "On the Road with Alice," in American History. August 1994.

Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.

"Woman driver makes history then—and now," in St. Petersburg Times [Florida]. October 20, 2000.

Jo Anne Meginnes , freelance writer, Brookfield, Vermont

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