Less than a year after she learned to drive, 22-year-old Alice Ramsey kissed her two-year old son and her husband goodbye and set out to drive a dark green, four-cylinder, 30 horsepower Maxwell across the United States, becoming the first woman to do so.
On June 9, 1909, Alice, along with her two, 40-something-year-old sisters-in-law and a 16-year old girlfriend, none of whom could drive, left New York City bound for San Francisco. Fifty-nine days later they arrived unscathed, but now veterans of many exciting adventures. In Nebraska they happened upon a manhunt for a murderer and in Nevada were surrounded by a group of Native Americans hunting jackrabbits. There was, of course, also the inherent problems in driving an early automobile on 3,600 miles of road, only 152 of which were paved. Not only was Alice the first woman to drive across the county, but she also did it in record time-–exceeding that of the men who had done it before her. The Maxwell at times whizzed along at 42 miles an hour.
After the trip, Alice continued to drive, making more than 30 trips across the country. In 1961, she published her memoir of her record-setting trip, Veil, Duster and Tire Iron. It was reprinted several years ago under the title, Alice’s Drive. When Alice died at age 96 in 1983, she had been driving 80 years and had received only one traffic ticket–for making an illegal U-turn.
Alice’s adventure still resonates with women today. In 1999, Tara Baukus Mello and Sue Mead recreated the 1909 trip, and in 2009, Emily Anderson and Christie Catania did the same in a vintage 1909 Maxwell.
By the way, Alice’s husband, New Jersey Congressman John R. Ramsey, never learned to drive a car. He left the driving to Alice.