Motor Maid Convention, DC, 1960

In July 1960, I was 2 ½ years old and my mother was a sedate matron with a tightly coiffed beehive hairdo who never left the house without my dad if she could help it.  The family automobile was a huge old Buick and I used to ride standing up in the front seat. 

My grandmother had been widowed for 10 years in 1960 and never drove an automobile a day in her life, passing away just before her 101st birthday. 

My mother and grandmother were pretty typical for our part of rural Tennessee, but in other parts of the state and country there were women who not only drove, but who rode their own motorcycles.  There is an account of the Motor Maids convention trip to Washington DC in 1960 in the August issue of American Motorcyclist.  One hundred women and 29 guests attended.

A young woman named Linda Dugeau learned to ride and wondered if any other women might share her enjoyment of riding.  She began writing letters of inquiry, and after three years she and Dot Robinson organized the Motor Maids with 51 charter members in 1940.  They were issued a charter by the AMA in 1941.  I’d love to hear some of the personal stories from those first 51 ladies and to shake the hands of women who refused to play by society’s rules . 

My aunt might have fit in well had the notion of riding occurred to her.  She was more adventuresome than my mother, having left home at age 16 spending the duration of WWII working in a munitions factory in South Alabama. 

Their time in the nation’s capitol seems pretty typical for the times, except that they rode motorcycles to the convention in DC and rode those motorcycles around the city once they got there.  There were the usual sight-seeing tours and luncheons, but there was also a tour of the Triumph Corp., a hayride to the clubhouse of the D.C. Ramblers MC, and a moonlight boat cruise down the Potomac River with dancing.  The ladies were attired, “either in their official club uniform or their newly acquired Motor Maid dresses”. 

Saturday some serious business was conducted including electing officers for the forthcoming three-year term.  Plans were made for the 1961 convention to be held in Panama City, Florida.  Special guests and speakers at the Saturday night banquet included Mr. Rod Coates of the Triumph Corp., and Mr. Bob Murray of the Harley-Davidson Motor Co.

The long-distance trophy was awarded to Margaret Drager of Seattle, Washington who ride 2,900 plus miles.  Riders at the convention were from 29 states, not all of which were listed in the article.  It is known that riders from Ohio, Washington state, California, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Iowa, and Tennessee were present.  One member from California who was a newlywed was accompanied by her husband who was welcomed warmly into the group. 

In true 1960’s style, new hair styles and new hair colors were important enough that they were discussed in the account of the convention, and one member was acknowledged for having given birth to a baby girl the month before.  One member attended the convention with her husband and children who rode in her sidecar. 

Some of the members had as much difficulty finding their way in a strange town as I usually do, and came up with an ingenious method for finding their way back to the hotel – they hailed a cab, gave the cabbie the address, and followed the cab back to the hotel on their motorcycles!

These ladies sound like they know how to have fun, and in fact, keeping the fun in riding is part of their requirements for membership.  Resolving to keep the fun in riding and not losing sight of that vision, is pretty impressive in today’s world when work and play are plagued with politics that suck the fun out of participation.  Perhaps the world could learn a thing or two from the Motor Maids. 

For more information, see http://www.motormaids.org/Home.aspx.  A special thank-you goes to Deb Bailey who shared information with me on the Motor Maids because I enjoy the early history of the sport, especially the contributions made by women.