Centenary of Women on Motorbikes

This is a great story from last week’s i paper:

A century ago, when the automobile was in its infancy and most roads were unpaved, two intrepid sisters from Brooklyn, New York, made a remarkable journey – a 4,000 mile trek across the US on motorcycles.

Augusta and Adeline van Buren devised the trip in 1916 in the run-up to the First World War [which began in 1914], seeking to prove that women could be military motorcycle couriers, able to endure long distances and harsh conditions as well as men.

They did complete their arduous two month ride but were turned down by the US Army because of heir gender. It is nonetheless remembered as a milestone in the then-burgeoning women’s movement, said Robert van Buren, a great nephew of the sisters, who were “trying to prove that women can contribute to the war effort that they knew was coming.”

To mark the 100th anniversary of that ride, a 3 week motorcycle adventure for women is being held, closely following he original route to California. It will be much easier than it was in 1916, when many roads were still dirt. sThe Lincoln hIghway which the sisters followed, was cobbled together in 1913 and went from Times Square in Manhattan to San Francisco, but it simply connected local roads.

“They were riding on the very same horse trails that farmers used. unimproved, unmarked, unsigned,” said William Murphy, who retraced their route for a book. Daring to be great was part of the van Buren sisters’ upbringing. “Their mother died when they were young, and their father raised them to be independent, athletic and strong. And they had to be strong and tough to attempt their motorcycle feat aboard a pair of Indian Powerful motorcycles – heavy, powerful machines capable of reaching 60mph but with no front brake.

Dressed in leather,s the Van Burens encountered prejudice, getting arrested for wearing men’s clothes. They confronted rainstorms, floods and snowstorms. They battled mud for 2 weeks, were rescued by miners after getting stuck in a remote mining camp in Colorado and nearly ran out of water in the desert near the Great salt Lake in Utah. But none of it seemed to matter.

“If you see some of he pictures of the, they’re just so happy. They’re having so much fun,” says Dan Ruderman, a grandson of Adeline. She went on to get a law degree at a time when women didn’t really practice law, while Augusta would join the Ninety-Nines, an international organisation of female pilots established in 1929. Adeline died in 1949 at the age of 59 and Augusta died a decade later at 75.

The Sisters’  Centennial Motorcycle Ride aims to raise awareness and funds for 2 womens’ groups. “I’m sure my grandmother would be proud,” says Mr Ruderman.

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