One of the sights of Broadway on Sunday mornings at this time of the year is the regular parade of motorcycles that speeds down it along about 11 o’clock. There are anywhere from ten to thirty of these machines strung along in a ragged procession, and the distinguishing thing about the parade is the number of women who take part in the sport, not as workers but as passengers. Evidently motorcyclists believe in having their wives or sweethearts share the game with them, and some of the machines are constructed with that point in view. One particularly smart one is of a tricycle pattern with a special seat for the woman passenger made of brown wickerwork and as smart in appearance as the girl who rides in it. Another of these tricycles has a passenger seat much like an English perambulator while the sportiest one of all has nothing more than an extra bicycle saddle perched over the rear wheel, on which a woman in a brown divided skirt and dusty leggings sits. So far as appearances go women will most likely take to motorcycling when they can ride in the comfortable looking tricycle style. Motorcycle Illustrated. Vol. 3. Aug. 1908.
This is quite an event to report. Four generations of women, all riding their own motorcycles. Only incident, I believe, in the U.S.
Here is the story as told by Motor Maid Helen Blansitt, St. Louis, Mo., Number two of the four.
“My Mother, Mrs. Flora Davis, started riding her brother’s 1916 model Indian, shortly after he bought it brand new. In those days the correct attire for riding a motorcycle was a “middie blouse” and a divided skirt. You can imagine the talk this motorcycle-ridin’ gal caused around the hills of old Virginia. Women were seldom known to drive automobiles, let alone ride a motorcycle. Mother let them talk and kept right on riding. I remember riding with her when, well gee, I was barely knee-high to a short duck!
I attended grade school riding ten miles solo…nope, I rode a horse, not a motorcycle then. A few years later the family moved to Dayton, Ohio, and my big interest became roller skating.
I was winning championships and headed for bigger things when I got side-tracked by marrying and raising a family—end of my roller skating career.
My two daughters were quite small when the old motorcycle fire caught up with me again. I used to envy anyone I saw riding a motorcycle and would beg to be taken for a ride. This way very unsatisfactory, so in 1937 I bought a motorcycle all my own.
My very first trip was to St. Louis, Mo., to see my mother and take her for a ride. She was really thrilled and enjoyed that time as she had years before. She still loves to ride whenever she gets a chance.
In 1940 I heard of a Girl’s Club being formed by Linda Dagaeu and Dot Robinson and became a charter member in that club—the Motor Maids of America. I now have my life-time bronze membership card of which I am very proud. I have been an AMA member for eighteen years. I’m proud of that too.
During the war years I belonged to a messenger service and rode my motorcycle daily in performing my duties. I really enjoyed this work and relish the experience it gave me.
My husband, Art, has been an AMA member nineteen years and both daughters, Joan and Lottie, have owned and ridden their own motorcycles. Put all our trophies together we have quite a bunch, as we have all won trophies in various contests.
Both girls are married now and busy raising their families. Lottie’s eldest daughter, Kathy, loves to ride a motorcycle and no one dares leave the place by cycle unless she protests, but loud, in not being taken along. She is headed for Miss Motor Maid 1970, I betcha. – American Motorcyclist. June 1955. Used with permission, Mr. James Holter, Publications.
See this site for photos that went with this article: books.google.com/books?id=9fsDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA11&dq=motorcycle+%22divided+skirt%22&hl=en#v=onepage&q=divided%20skirt&f=false
Regular readers will remember the story of Ruben Carrill, Jr. who was “bumped” by a car on the freeway and slid, with his motorcycle, ending up underneath a dump truck that was fully loaded. There is a link to his story in that post along with a link to information on devices that could prevent a rider from sliding underneath a big rig.
In case anyone thinks Ruben’s accident was one-of-a-kind, let me share the story of April E. Stirton, a 26 year old woman who was hit by the back wheels of an F550 truck, lost control of her motorcycle on a Hollywood freeway, and slid underneath the wheels of a tow truck. She then slid over 100 feet underneath the truck before ending up wedged under the wheels of the truck.
She was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics responding to the accident which happened on April 7, 2010 at about 7:40 a.m.
April was a stunt woman and had performed stunts in a number of television programs including CSI Miami. Ride safe, Vrumble
In some ways, I’m a walking contradiction of values for the times in which I live. I vote conservatively, dress conservatively, live conservatively, and yet I persist in doing things my children find highly dysfunctional – like riding.
My oldest son’s wife posts photos of their ATV exploits that make me cringe to see them climbing almost vertical hills, navigating mud-holes that threaten to consume the 4-wheelers they ride, etc., yet they think I’m dysfunctional because I ride a motorcycle “on the highways”. His comment when I bought my bike was, “I hope you have your life insurance paid up”. Ditto.
My youngest son is ultra-conservative, even by my standards, and thinks my riding confirms his notion that senility has set in and mom is on the fast track into the retirement home. Not.
My parents haven’t left town in 20 years and have compared me to my spinster great aunt whom my grandmother considered a wandering gypsy because she’d pack up and hop on a Greyhound bus bound for anywhere she took a notion any time she pleased. I thought she was the coolest person I knew.
There are places to see, cuisine to be sampled, people to meet, antique stores to explore, and fun to be had, and you can bet the farm that as long as we’re able we intend to pursue them all so we’ve adopted the motto, “We put the FUN in Dysfunctional!” Perhaps I should have that made into a patch or helmet sticker or cross stitch it to hang over the mantle.
The biggest thing we need to work on in order to get the most ride time for the amount of leisure time we have is planning ahead – deciding ahead of time where we’re going and packing the day before so we’re ready to roll as soon as we’ve had enough coffee to stumble out to the bikes.
I found the following advice in a magazine written by a member of the Motor Maids in 1955. I’m not too sure about the ironing thing, but I love reading the exploits of those early women riders. They were probably considered off kilter by their conservative neighbors and friends, riding motorcycles instead of filling their days with knitting and baking souffles, but I bet they were pretty comfortable with putting the Fun in “Dysfunctional” too!
Maybe we can all learn a thing or two from their experience, or at the very least enjoy a brief glimpse into life in the 1950’s. Ride safe, my friends, Vrumblesramblingbikerblog.
If you’re planning a trip by motorcycle, there are many things to consider and lots of short-cuts are found by girls who travel a lot. Here are a few hints to help you.
Have your motorcycle serviced the day before the trip and the saddlebags all packed. Take a travel iron, (the kind that folds) it will really come in handy on the trip. No need to worry about an ironing board. A dresser drawer placed upside down on a table is the right height. Cover the drawer with a towel and you’re in business without the worry of ruining varnished surfaces.
Roll your clothes instead of folding them. They won’t wrinkle as easily. If possible, wear coveralls on the trip. In the P.M. when you stop for the day, it’s no trouble to slip out of them and your clothes underneath are nice and clean.
Take a large handkerchief or scarf along to cover your face if the weather is cold, windy, or hot. You won’t have a burned face if you do this.
Wear your gloves and wear your boots. Always have a heavy jacket, even in the warmer climates, it gets chilly riding after dusk. Wear a crash helmet, if you have one, for protection against the automobiles and pavement—If you don’t have one—get one.
Source: American Motorcyclist. April 1955.
I have always been a history buff. I could point out every dead relative for 7 generations at the family cemetery by the time I was three years old. That is probably why my grandmother made me promise to get the family history in print before she passed and why I spent the next ten years doing just that.
It doesn’t seem to matter what my current interests are, it doesn’t take long before curiosity gets the better of me and I find myself digging through old records for what Paul Harvey called, “the rest of the story”. Riding has followed that pattern and I seem to be almost equally happy on the road as reading about the women who shattered the stereotypes of what proper women did during the first half of the 20th century by climbing on their motorcycles and heading down the highway.
I spent years writing books and magazines on historic foodways until the Great Depression, Round Two, destroyed the small businesses in this country and book sales tanked at just about the time magazines stopped paying writers – even those like myself who had written regular columns for them for years. I now have a “real job”, but I still have to get my history fix so writing took the form of two blogs, Vrumblesramblingbikerblog and TheHistoricFoodie, both on wordpress.com.
I get especially excited when I can combine multiple passions into one post, and trivia on the Motor Maids never fails to disappoint.
Some Motor Maid members living where Old Man Winter brought icy blasts that lasted longer than in other parts of the country consoled themselves after bedding down their motorcycles for winter with a visit to the city (New York) every year. In November 1965, twelve members and four guests “threw away their diets” and dined at the Meadowbrook Dinner-Theater in New Jersey where they enjoyed a performance of the Flower Drum Song.
The Meadowbrook was about half an hour from Manhattan. It opened in Cedar Grove, New Jersey in 1923. It was restructured as the Meadowbrook Dinner-Theater and re-opened as such late in 1959. Carl Sawyer, who is credited with its resurrection as a dinner theater, died in San Francisco at the age of 85. In his obituary, it says that the Meadowbrook was the first dinner theater in the U.S. He went on to open similar facilities in numerous locations, all of which were quite successful.
The Flower Drum Song was a musical with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, II. Those distinguished gentlemen joined forces in 1943 to create the dynamic duo of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The first musical they created together was Oklahoma. The Flower Drum Song was based on the 1957 novel by C. Y. Lee, and was the eighth production of the team of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Stage productions suffered after the story was made into a film directed by Gene Kelly in 1961.
The hostess for the Motor Maids’ Christmas party surprised them by presenting a blazing Cherries Jibilee after which Janet Nixon, “recited a very ‘motorcyclish’ poem patterned after The Night Before Christmas”. You gotta love a “biker chick” that can turn out a killer Cherries Jubilee, and wouldn’t you love to get your hands on a copy of that poem? – American Motorcyclist. March 1965.
Ride safe, my friends. – Vrumble
Helene Redman was the State Director for the Motor Maids in Washington, Oregon, and Western Canada in 1965, quite an accomplishment for a woman who initially wanted nothing to do with a motorcycle. When her husband sold the family automobile and replaced it with a motorcycle so she had two choices – walk, or learn to ride it.
She began riding in 1948 and by her account, her first solo ride was, “a comical one”. She had been instructed how to operate the machine but not on how to stop it, so when she wanted to dismount she aimed it into a hay stack to stop it. “Complete riding instructions occupied the greater part of the next day”.
Months later she suffered a broken shoulder and leg after a car pulled out of a side road into her path and she, walking on crutches, began again with an H-D 74 and sidecar. It was about that time that she joined the Motor Maids and became a life member. She suffered several falls and subsequently broke the same leg three more times but kept riding and competed in enduros, cross country rides, and other events.
In 1963, she and daughter, Ann, attended the Motor Maids annual poker run and an article in American Motorcyclist indicated Helene had appropriately named her Honda motorcycle Gypsy. At a previous event in Seattle, Helene and Ann had taken the honors for best dressed girl and motorcycle.
Ann was new to the Motor Maids in 1963, but was quickly proving her worth. She and Helene were noted for riding 170 miles in the rain to get to an event only to find out they were a few minutes too late to participate.
Helene volunteered her time at races, worked the AMA booths, “and helps out at any job that needs be done at motorcycle events”. She was no wallflower and was often featured on television and in print to promote motorcycling. She was a member of the Vancouver Black Cats M/C. She rode to 45 states and clocked over 350,000 miles on her various motorcycles. She won over 80 trophies from various states, “for most every type of event”. She was voted “Most Popular & Typical Woman Rider” and rode to Daytona Beach, Florida where she was honored for her accomplishments. She is remembered for having worked tirelessly to promote events that included women riders. She taught all five of her children to ride.
In true 1960’s style, reporters pointed out she was a home maker, talented cook, and enjoyed canning her own foods, bowling, painting textiles, sewing, and crocheting. She also worked with the PTA, 4-H club, and scouting.
Helene A. Redman was born May 25, 1927, and died Feb. 22, 1981. She was survived by her daughter, Ann, of Cornelius Oregon.
American Motorcyclist, March 1965, and various issues in 1963 and 1964, Obituary
From all accounts, Dixie ABATE’s Ride to the Capitol on April 28th, 2012, in support of motorcycle safety and motorists’ awareness of motorcycles on Alabama’s highways and by-ways, was a huge success. I’m thankful. After having worked so hard on it, if it hadn’t been, I’m not sure how well I’d have handled it.
It was hard for us to work so hard on planning an event, spend money out of our pocket to promote it, and then miss it, but in our list of priorities, family comes first, and we were able to be with ours during a time of great loss. No regrets, we were where we needed to be.
Martin’s brother, Paul, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, so we were in Pennsylvania for a week, missing the ride, but still calling in reminders to speakers and press, passing on information and updates to Matthew as it was reported to me on the morning of the ride, and supporting it to the end from 16 hours away.
The message about safety and awareness got good press coverage and hopefully lives are richer for it. My life is also richer for having an opportunity to be a part of this wonderful family.
My fondest memories of Paul center on our ride up to Pennsylvania last July. We were meeting him for breakfast, and as we pulled up and parked, I noticed an antique store across the road. We were a few minutes early, so I hastily got out of my gear and walked over to check out the treasures in the shop window. When we saw Paul, we walked back to the diner where we were met by their brother, Mike, and had a wonderful visit and a great breakfast.
As we ate, it began to rain, pretty heavily in fact, and so we sat for quite a while drinking coffee and visiting waiting for the rain to stop. When we walked out to leave, I saw that in my haste to get to the antique store, I’d left my helmet, upside down, on the seat of my bike – during the rainstorm.
I stood there looking at that helmet and wondering how I could have been such an idiot while Paul and Martin looked on without saying a word. Finally, trying to keep a straight face, Paul, said, “If you turn it up the other way, the water runs off”. That did it. We lost it. We’re standing there laughing our heads off as I poured a pint or so of water out of my helmet and plopped it on my head.
That evening, as we got ready to meet the family for dinner I told Martin that his brothers, most of whom are seasoned riders, would think I was a real idiot when they heard what I did. He said he didn’t see how they’d know, to which I told him, “They’ll know”. I knew we’d never make it through dinner without Paul sharing the story of my mishap. Sure enough, we barely got sat down at the diner before Paul goes, “Do you know what she did?” We lost it again.
That is how I’m going to remember Paul Brady – laughing with me, and not at me, and making me, an only child, feel like part of his great big family. I’m a better person for having known him, and I’ll never forget the camaraderie we shared that day. He wasn’t with us in body for the meals and reminiscing this trip, but he was certainly there in spirit as we all celebrated the life and memory of Paul Brady.
An earlier post on the history of the Motor Maids, ladies motorcycling club, indicates the club was organized in 1940, but the name “Motor Maids” predates that by some forty years. This is sheer speculation on my part, but the name chosen by the lady motorcyclists may have come from a series of books by the same name.
MOTOR MAIDS SERIES by Katherine Stokes. Cloth Bound. Illustrated. Price, 50c per vol., postpaid. The Motor Maids’ School Days. Billie Campbell was just the type of a straightforward, athletic girl to be successful as a practical Motor Maid. She took her car, as she did her class-mates, to her heart, and many a grand good time did they have all together. The road over which she ran her red machine had many an unexpected turning.
The Motor Maids by Palm and Pine. Wherever the Motor Maids went there were lively times, for these were companionable girls who looked upon the world as a vastly interesting place full of unique adventures.
The Motor Maids Across the Continent. It is always interesting to travel, and it is wonderfully entertaining to see old scenes through fresh eyes. It is that privilege, therefore, that makes it worthwhile to join the Motor Maids in their first ‘cross-country run’.
The Motor Maids by Rose, Shamrock and Thistle. South and West had the Motor Maids motored, nor could their education by travel have been more wisely begun. But now a speaking acquaintance with their own country, enriched their anticipation of an introduction to the British Isles. How they made their polite American bow and how they were received on the other side is a tale of interest and inspiration.
The Motor Maids in Fair Japan. In a picturesque villa among picturesque surroundings the Motor Maids spend a happy vacation. The charm of Japan, –her cherry blossoms, her temples, her quaint customs, her polite people,–is reflected in all their delightful experiences.
The Motor Maids at Sunrise Camp. Most interesting of all interest events recorded about the Motor Maids are these relating to their summer in a mountain camp. The new friends introduced in this book add the final touch of romance.
Charmingly written books which will delight all girls who are fond of out-door life—and most girls are. The trips taken by these Motor Maids would envy any girl, yet you can have all the pleasant experiences by reading the stories.
We will send any book upon receipt of 50 cents, or all six for $2.50. Hurst & Company, Publishers, New York.
The preceding advertisement for the Motor Maids series of books was published in the back of a novel, Her Senator, written by Archibald Clavering Gunter, copyrighted by Hurst & Co. of New York in 1896. The same advertisement appeared in similar publications numerous times through 1920.
The book series, obviously predates the organization of the Motor Maids MC by some forty years, but where did the name come from for the books? The author and publisher used the name Motor Maids in the books because it took advantage of an employment that was all the rage in the 1890’s through the 1920’s.
At that time, a motor maid was a ladies’ maid who could drive an automobile and the demand for such was very high in England at the turn of the century. Young ladies who were, “ambitious…who have a technical turn of mind are said to have excellent chances of securing well-paid employment”.
Advertisements appeared regularly in English newspapers requesting the services of ladies’ maids who could drive cars and schools who taught young pupils to drive were experiencing a rapid rise in young women who wanted to take their courses.
Motor maids are often wanted to take out a small runabout [automobile] for the governess and children while the chauffeur is driving other members of the family, and even the governesses themselves are learning to drive cars rather than to push baby carriages. – Motor. Vol. 13-14. April 1910.
The primary characters in the Motor Maids books were young ladies who drove cars and got themselves and their friends into all sorts of adventures. The books were probably still well known when the organizers of the Motor Maids MC chose the name, and given the wonderful adventures the riders enjoyed I doubt a more appropriate name could have been found.
For more insight, please see: Williamson, C. N. and A. M. The Motor Maid. NY. A. L. Burt Company. 1910.
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.
The Damned Yankee and I have discussed many times the danger associated with early women riders who wore skirts and even split skirts while riding. I would have been one of those women ridiculed and belittled for wearing “brother’s breeches”, because I’d be much less bothered by busy-bodies meddling in my business than by getting a skirt caught in the moving parts of my bike and tumbling head over heels down the road. I’ve recently seen several articles from the early 20th century addressing this issue and will post some of them periodically for your reading pleasure.
The following article is from the San Diego Union on Sept. 24, 1913.
WOMAN WOULD WEAR TROUSERS
“I don’t want to dress up exactly like a man, but I would like to wear a pair of trousers,” said a young woman who appeared at Police Headquarters last evening. “Because,” she added hastily, “I ride a motorcycle with my husband, and we are out a great deal. Do you think they would arrest me on the charge of masquerading as a man if I dressed that way? It is so comfortable.”
Sgt. Johnson considered the matter carefully.
The anxious visitor further explained that she had been in the habit of wearing leggings and a sweater, but the bloomer or divided skirt was not the thing at all for a woman rider of a motorcycle. The Sgt. finally passed judgment on the proposition. He said that as far as he could see there was nothing immodest in the attire described to him. Inasmuch as the fair motorcyclist wore her hair in two long braids, it was evident that she would not conceal her sex or impersonate a man, simply by wearing a pair of comfortable trousers.
It was the opinion of the Sgt. therefore that the law concerning masquerading would not be violated should the young lady dress herself in the manner described.
Motorcycle Officer Hopkins concurred in the decision: “I have observed,” said Hopkins, “that the bloomer and split skirt both are dangerous when it comes to riding a motorcycle. The rider who wears these kind of garments runs the risk of having the cloth caught in the spokes of the wheel, the rider then would be thrown and hurt.”