I’m a historian and writer first, a rider second, so I admit when I was invited to join the Motor Maids it was the history of being part of the first women’s riding club that made me accept. Don’t get me wrong, I love riding, but I never tire of researching a thing as long as there’s information to be found. Pull up a chair and see if the following account doesn’t pique your curiosity, at least just a little.
I enjoy riding in cooler weather. I live in the Deep South where summers can be blistering hot and July and August are usually down times for me while January may see me out and about. For many, however, winter is down time, and for these Motor Maids January 1959 was just that.
“Right now there seems to be a slack season for motorcycle events. Therefore, we have the close of several district activity contests to report. Colorado State Director Millie King sends the results of their 1958 contest. Janice Pittman, Denver, was first with “Charlie” Enfield and La Vange Frazier tied for second place. They held a ‘Yuletide’ party, at which time awards were presented to the winners. Plans were also made for some Motor Maid activity during Colorado’s ‘Rush to the Rockies’ celebration, commemorating Colorado’s Centennial Birthday. The Committee has already invited the Motor Maids to participate in these outstanding events throughout the coming year. The Colorado girls held a ‘Hulu Hoop’ contest at one of their previous meetings and just everyone ‘flunked’ except La Vange, who managed a couple of go-rounds before letting the hoop hit the floor. To make the rest of the girls feel there was something definitely missing in their physical structure, Cathy Fox’s little daughter demonstrated the art of ‘Hulu Hoping’ by hooping an unlimited time with nary a miss. It looks so easy!
Millie and Janice braved 25 degree weather to shop in Denver. They rode their cycles to the city and didn’t see another cyclist except red-faced motorcycle patrolmen. Brrrrr. Cold weather doesn’t stop MM Mary Sheaffer, Buffalo, N.Y. She has a job delivering packages and rides a three-wheeler at work every day, rain, snow, and sleet. Besides that, she rides her own motorcycle to work. Mary rated a fine write-up in the Buffalo newspaper recently and managed to give the Motor Maids of America a fine compliment during the interview.
Glad to report the broken pins of Susie McCreary and Margaret Wilson are improving and both will be back in the saddle before too long…
As usual for this time of year, Evelyn has been busy with the muddy and snowy runs. She rides all the local events. Mostly she is the sole female rider but she rides anyway. Some day she hopes to ride the big Jack Pine enduro, but since her club is one of the sponsoring clubs it has always been necessary for Evelyn to act as a checker. In the 1958 Jack Pine, Evelyn and her husband handled eight checks on the run.
MM President Dot Robinson has been visiting around the country via motorcycle. She has been to Shreveport for a visit with Vice President Pat Boatright. MM Treasurer Nickie Hero and Florida State Director, Nancy Henson rode over from Pensacola, Fla., and the four of them had a real nice gab-session. A week or so later Dot dropped in on Minnesota State Director, Kathy Anderson in Bloomington, Minn. This was an excuse for another Motor Maid party.
MM Irene Smith and family of Tulsa, Okla., home from a trip to Florida. They had a fine visit with Nickie Hero and family and attended the Northern Florida rally. Irene is the proud owner of a new BMW motorcycle.
There’s a new all girl’s club formed in Phoenix, Ariz. Name of the new club is the ‘Polka Dots’. MM Pat Imes is in charge of the group and she says they have already had several events with more planned.
The Motor Maid officer’s meeting will be held in Memphis, Tenn., sometime this month. This is the meeting where all the officers work on the mailing list of MMs and where State Directors are decided upon for the coming year. Biggest job is the sorting of names and addresses which change at a very rapid rate. I’m looking forward to seeing fellow officers, Pat Boatright, Nicki Hero, Dot Robinson, Mary Cutright, Butch Widman and the three Advisory editors, Margaret Yoke, Lillian DeVore, and Mabel Hutchinson. If we all are able to attend, we should be able to get the work out in short order.
There was a Powder Puff endure held in Ludlow, Mass., recently. Leslie Pink was winner, Marlene Wolf, second and Thresa Haggett, third.
The Metropolitan Chapter of Motor Maids held their annual Christmas party in December. The affair was held at the home of MM Johnnie Pantanelli.
There will certainly have to be a chapter in the Motor Maids for grandmothers. Two St. Joseph, Mo., Motor Maids have their applications in for membership into the chapter in the spring. MMs Frances Boy and Juanita Walker are eagerly looking forward to the months of May and June (dates picked by the Stork to make grandmas of these two.) Already a qualified member is MM Mary Heard of Peterboro, Ont., Canada. Mary’s daughter, MM Pauline Carl presented her husband with a baby boy, named Howard Graham. Congratulations to all and especially to Grandma Mary!
Brad Edward arrived at the home of MM Bev Tibbets and husband, Dick. This new arrival was named for their favorite competition motorcycle rider. I’ll betcha!
The cold weather did not keep five Motor Maids in Missouri from riding the parade preceding the Mineral Bowl football game in Excelsior Springs, Mo. Several of the Missouri girls rode the turkey run in St. Joseph, Mo., in November. Winner in the lady operator class was MM Frances Boy. Your reporter (got lost, you know) was second.
See you next month.” – Source: American Motorcycling. January 1959.
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
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
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.