Editor’s Note: The following is the first in a four-part series showcasing 12 female riders with historic significance.
The 19th Amendment guaranteed Women would receive the same right to vote as men. The era between 1878 and when it was finally ratified in 1920 were tough on women everywhere, but for those who stood up for what they believed in and help prove, reveal or otherwise convince the majority of the citizens of the United States that women kick ass and deserve to have the same rights as men: We want to say thank you. As you read through this brief overview of important women in motorcycle history, some of which were from that early era, it is important to understand that their contributions were often made with little or no support from friends or family. These are women who recognized that being given equal rights meant more than just the right to vote or work, but it also gave them the right to do as they damn well pleased. In the case of the dozen women we will look at in this article, that freedom included riding a motorcycle.
Facts: This mother-daughter team were the first female motorcycle riders to successfully complete a transcontinental ride across the United States.
In 1915 Effie & Avis Hotchkiss became the first women to ride across the US when they headed west from Brooklyn, New York to San Francisco.… and back again for a total of approximately 9,000 miles. The Hotchkiss women chose a 1915 three-speed 11-F Harley-Davidson with a custom made sidecar built to accommodate the mother Avis, who would be a passenger for the entire journey. The story is that Effie, a professional woman who longed for something more than what the 9-to-5 professional life, decided to quit her job and find herself…so to speak. That is where this adventure begins. After purchasing her first motorcycle then teaching herself to ride and handle repairs she got the urge to explore the area surrounding New York. In order to share the experience with her mom, Avis she added a sidecar so that she could participate. Of course it was great fun for both of them and before long the pair had decided on a whim to take a ride to check out the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition…in San Francisco.
Although they didn’t intend to make history, the pair set off from Brooklyn on May 2, 1915 and followed a route that took them through the southernmost United States. For those of you who are familiar with the desert southwest you can imagine how much fun those 120-degreee summer days were as they travelled through states like New Mexico and Arizona. But they were tough cookies and according to the story in Harley-Davidson Dealer’s magazine they even had to shoot their way through marauding rattlesnakes and coyotes along the way. Once they arrived in San Francisco and rode their 11-F right to the shore of the Pacific Ocean they had officially become the first women to cross the United States on any type of motorcycle. Their return trip took them further north through Utah, Illinois and Milwaukee on their way back east. By the time they arrived in Brooklyn in October with 9,000 miles of riding and a surprising amount of fanfare, they had managed to secure a place in the motorcycle history books.
Facts: These two sisters were the first women to navigate Pikes Peak on a motorized vehicle of any kind and are often billed as the first women to ride solo motorcycles across the United States. They were inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2002. And Sturgis Hall of Fame in 2003.
In 1916 these two affluent sisters from New York set out to prove that women should be used as dispatch riders in the war effort and in order to prove their potential, decided to ride across the United States. Adeline and Augusta came from an active family so it wasn’t a real shock when they showed up on a pair of new Indian Power Plus motorcycles, hell bent on proving women can ride as well as men. Unlike the Hotchkiss women, they were intent on making a point. In order to show they had the moxie and skill to handle the grueling demands of riding bikes long distances, they set out on their own 5,500 mile ride to San Francisco on July 4, 1916. The route took them through Chicago, into Colorado and Utah with many stops both voluntary and involuntary along the way.
They faced harsh terrain of the unimproved roads that connected the two coasts in addition to harassment from law enforcement and folks discriminating against them for just being female. According to their Hall of Fame bio they were even arrested for wearing men’s riding clothes on a couple occasions. In Colorado, they made their official mark in the history books by becoming the first women to summit the 14,000 tall Pikes Peak hill climb (just for fun, not in any type of competition). In fact they were the first females to accomplish the task in any type of modern conveyance for that matter. Their three month long transcontinental mission was accomplished on September 2. The fanfare in the media surrounding their effort made the ride seem more like a vacation than a political statement or historical achievement it was intended for. Afterwards, it was no surprise, Adeline’s application to join the military was still rejected, but the point had been made. Women are awesome. While Adeline went on to become a lawyer in NYC, Augusta became a pilot and joined the female flying club called the 99s, which was started by Amelia Earhart. The 99s were considered the inspiration for the Motor Maids MC Club. Adeline & Augusta van Buren AMA Hall of Fame Bio
Facts: A pioneer for women motorcycle riders, she was the first female to win an AMA event and co-founded Motor Maids Club. Inducted into AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1991.
Known as the “First Lady of Motorcycling,” this Australian born AMA Hall of Fame member is the daughter of Jim Goulding, the owner and manufacturer of the famous Goulding Sidecar. The story of her life as a motorcycle rider began before birth when her father hurried her mother, Olive to the hospital in a Goulding sidecar attached to a 1911 Harley-Davidson. In 1923 they relocated the sidecar business to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and later to Saginaw, Michigan where the family owned a Harley-Davidson dealership and continued to build sidecars until just after the Great Depression. It was about that time that young Dorothy, aka Dot, really came into her own. Her father had actually ridden a sidecar from NY to San Francisco when they arrived in the US in an effort to prove the durability of his machines and establish dealership contacts across the US along the way. Looking back on it, there is little doubt to what Dot would be destined to do the same. As a teen she worked in the family dealership and eventually gave into the charms of a young man named Earl Robinson who would later become her husband. The couple acquired Dot’s father’s dealership with the help of Arthur Davidson (one of the founders of Harley-Davidson) in 1932 and eventually moved it to Detroit where they would go on to etch their names in the history of motorcycling.
Together they would compete in numerous races as both solo riders and a sidecar duo, with Dot taking countless victories in her signature red livery. She would later become known for wearing pink gear as she distanced herself from the black leather bikers usually wore. In 1935 they even set the transcontinental sidecar record from New York to Los Angeles with a time of 89 hours and 58-minutes. Dot put her personal stamp on things by winning the 500-mile long Jack Pine Enduro Sidecar A-class in 1940 and 1946 against the male riders. The victory in 1940 established her as the first woman to win an AMA National competition. In addition to racing sidecar motorcycles, running a business and raising a family, Mrs. Robinson also co-founded the legendary Motor Maids of America, the original all-female motorcycle club with her friend and fellow motorcycle hall of fame member, Linda Dugeau. The Motor Maids are credited with bringing more female riders into the sport than any other organization at the time and they are still in operation to this day. She continued to race and win through the 1960s before selling of their business in 1972 and doing what most hall of fame motorcycle riders do: They retired, moved to Florida and continued riding, just for the fun of it. Dot Robinson AMA Hall of Fame Bio
For a glimpse into the life of Dot Robinson and what it was like to race sidecars, there is a great original silent home movie footage converted to video that features Dot and her family competing in the 1947 Jack Pine Enduro: Film Courtesy of Goulding Family.
To read Part II, go here.