On June 9th, 1909, Alice Huyler Ramsey, a 22 year old housewife from Hackensack, set off on a landmark journey, attempting to become the first woman to drive an automobile across the country. She was sponsored by car manufacturer the Maxwell-Briscoe Company, that wanted to show that their autos were suitable even for women to drive. (Maxwell-Briscoe was later absorbed by Chrysler)

The car itself was a four cylinder, 30 horsepower beast that topped out at 42 MPH. She left with her two sisters-in-law and a sixteen year female friend from New York, marking the beginning of the all-female adventure. Of the 3,800 miles she drove, it is said that only 152 of them were paved, causing multiple problems for the treadless tires. The car had to be towed out of the mud by horses on at least one occasion.

Alice Ramsey
Credit: Via Detroit Public Library Digital Collections

Accounts of her trip vary, but some of the obstacles she faced (other than the lack of paved roads) included running out of gas, blown tires, curious and enthusiastic (and sometimes hostile) onlookers, and, mainly, a lack of maps. She relied on a series of written guides, but they used landmarks that in some cases had changed. Ramsey came to more than one dead end and had to backtrack. Plus, there were no guides for roads west of the Mississippi. She said that she would follow telegraph poles assuming they would lead her to towns.

They arrived in San Francisco on August 7th, the trip having taken 59 days. The headline in the San Francisco Chronicle read: “PRETTY WOMEN MOTORISTS ARRIVE AFTER TRIP ACROSS THE CONTINENT.” The travelling party returned to New Jersey via rail; Ramsey settled in New Jersey to raise her two children, but she drove across the country at least 30 more times.

She died in 1983 and was the first woman inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Bill Doyle. Any opinions expressed are Bill Doyle's own.

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