Bring back some good or bad memories


April 20, 2014

Vintage Photographs of Alice Huyler Ramsey, the First Woman to Drive Across the American Continent, 1909

In 1909, Alice Ramsey (1886-1983) made history as the first woman to drive across the United States.

Ramsey was born Alice Taylor Huyler, the daughter of John Edwin Huyler, a lumber dealer, and Ada Mumford Farr. She attended Vassar College from 1903-1905.

In 1908 her husband bought her a new Maxwell runabout. She was an avid driver, and in September 1908 she drove one of the three Maxwells which were entered in that year's American Automobile Association's (AAA) Montauk Point endurance race, being one of only two women to participate. One of the other Maxwell drivers was Carl Kelsey, who did publicity for Maxwell-Briscoe. It was during this event that Kelsey proposed that she attempt a transcontinental journey, with Maxwell-Briscoe's backing. The company would supply a 1909 touring car for the journey, and would also provide assistance and parts as needed. The drive was originally meant as a publicity stunt for Maxwell-Briscoe, and would also prove to be part of Maxwell's ongoing strategy of specifically marketing to women. At that time, women were not often encouraged to drive cars.

On June 9, 1909, this 22-year-old housewife and mother from Hackensack, New Jersey, began a 3,800-mile journey from Hell Gate in Manhattan, New York, to San Francisco, California, in a green Maxwell 30. On her 59-day trek she was accompanied by two older sisters-in-law and 16 year-old friend Hermine Jahns, none of whom could drive a car. They arrived amid great fanfare on August 7, although about three weeks later than originally planned.

The group of women used maps from the American Automobile Association to make the journey. Only 152 of the 3,600 miles (244 of the 5,767 kilometers) that the group traveled were paved. Over the course of the drive, Ramsey changed 11 tires, cleaned the spark plugs, repaired a broken brake pedal and had to sleep in the car when it was stuck in mud. The women mostly navigated by using telephone poles, following the poles with more wires in hopes that they would lead to a town.

Along the way, they crossed the trail of a manhunt for a killer in Nebraska, Ramsey received a case of bedbugs from a Wyoming hotel, and in Nevada they were surrounded by a Native American hunting party with bows and arrows drawn. In San Francisco, crowds awaited them at the St. James Hotel. Ramsey was named the "Woman Motorist of the Century" by AAA in 1960. In later years, she lived in West Covina, California, where in 1961 she wrote and published the story of her journey, Veil, Duster, and Tire Iron. Between 1909 and 1975, Ramsey drove across the country more than 30 times.

She died on September 10, 1983, in Covina, California.


  1. From fighting the man, to working for the man.
    You've come a long way, baby.




Browse by Decades

Popular Posts


09 10