March is Women’s History Month, and there is plenty to celebrate in the auto industry! Women are responsible for some of the greatest moments in car history, so we’re excited to share two stories you may not already know. Check them out:
Alice Huyler Ramsey: The First Road Trip
These days, a cross-country road trip with some friends isn’t a big deal, but not in 1909. That’s when Alice Huyler Ramsey, a 22-year-old mother of two from New Jersey, made history and became the first woman to drive across the United States, accompanied by her two sisters-in-law and a friend. The trip took 59 days and covered 3,800 miles.
The trip was the idea of a salesman representing automaker Maxwell-Briscoe. After seeing Ramsey participate in a 200-mile "endurance drive", he offered an all-expenses paid trip on behalf of the company. The trip was to prove that anyone could take a Maxwell car all the way across the country. At the time, women driving for shorter distances nearby to home was common, however, a cross-country trip had only been tried a few times and never accomplished.
To prepare, the group of women learned car safety basics, prepared to wear hats and googles and covered their long dresses with dusters to stay protected from mud and dirt. The trip wasn’t without the typical road trip hijinks, either! Along the way, the group ran out of gas, had tires blow out and had to work through an overheated radiator. Weather provided its own host of problems: in one case, the ladies slept alongside an overflown creek until the water moved down enough to drive through it.
Additionally, because cars were not as common, the roads themselves weren’t exactly great for long-distance trips. Ramsey also relied mostly on the Blue Book series of automotive guides, which gave directions using landmarks such as a “yellow house and barn.” Unfortunately, sometimes the routes changed before the books did, and in some cases, no books for areas at all, leaving Ramsey up to navigate using roads that looked the most worn.
After the successful trip, Ramsey returned home to New Jersey to raise her children, but continued her driving with many cross-country drives. She was named the “First Lady of Automotive Travel” by the Automobile Manufacturers Association in 1960 and in 1961 wrote a book chronicling the trip. Later in life, she drove five of the six passes of the Swiss Alps.
The First Lady of Racing
Denise McCluggage, commonly known as “The First Lady of Racing,” was a female pioneer in both the fields of sports writing and race car driving. McCluggage was first a journalist, working at the San Francisco Chronicle and later the New York Herald Tribune, when she began participating in amateur automobile races.
At the time, automobile racing and journalism weren’t welcoming women with open arms. In some cases, there were venues, notably the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that didn’t allow women into the pit or garage areas. However, McCluggage was one of the most celebrated racers of the time, and paved the way for many women drivers to come after her. She continued to race cars throughout the 50s and 60s, ultimately winding down her racing career in favor of her journalism career. She helped with the formation of Competition Press, which would ultimately become AutoWeek magazine, currently the largest auto magazine in the world.