Automotive History is More Than Just Cars - Part 3 - Alice Huyler Ramsey


Heading East, about five miles from Gasoline Alley, we end up in Barbadoes Twp., now known as Hackensack, NJ where we meet up with the woman who was told "proper women shouldn't drive". So she drove across the country to prove them wrong. 
(Courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library)
"Good driving has nothing to do with (your) sex. It’s all above the collar."
 Alice Huyler Ramsey-1975

Alice had been out for a horseback ride when a car’s horn spooked her mount. After the incident, her husband reasoned that cars were probably safer than horses and together decided to buck social norms by buying her an automobile.  
Ramsey quickly fell in love with driving. In the following summer, she drove over 6,000 miles traveling the mostly dirt “highways” and competed in motoring competitions near her New Jersey home. Her entry into an endurance race to and from Montauk Point, NY, caught the attention of PR man Carl Kelsey, representing the automaker Maxwell-Briscoe Company. 

While that phrase was coined much later, Carl Kelsey and the Maxwell company understood that if they could end the horribly sexist ideals of driving as only a man's job, they would win the attention of every woman in the country and double their market size. But they also understood to be successful at these goals, they had to shrink the time, money and effort required to change societal attitudes.
(Courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library)
Kelsey marveled at Alice's driving prowess and came up with an idea. He proposed an all-expenses-paid trip, courtesy of the company, if Ramsey showed the world that a Maxwell could take anyone, even a woman driver, all the way across America. 

When Kelsey pitched his idea to the Ramsey's over dinner, she jumped at the opportunity. Ramsey would later say, “I did it because it was a challenge and because I knew it would be fun.” 

She roped two sisters-in-law and a friend into joining her strictly for company, of course, as only Ramsey knew how to drive. Maxwell would provide them with a set of wheels, any supplies they needed, and a PR man to travel ahead of them to drum up coverage.
To accompany Ramsey (second from the left) on the trip, she brought Nettie Powell, Margaret Atwood and Hermine Jahns
ON JUNE 9, 1909

In a rain drenched New York City, a crowd of wet photographers gathered at 1930 Broadway to snap pictures of an “automobile” and the four poncho-cloaked women within. 

The car itself was a dark-green, four-cylinder, 30-horsepower 1909 Maxwell DA, a touring car with two bench seats and a removable pantasote roof. 

But the cameras focused particular attention on the woman in the driver’s seat, 22-year-old Alice Ramsey. Just over five feet tall, with dark hair below her rubber helmet and visor, she posed until she could stand it no more; then kissed her husband goodbye and cranked the motor to start the car’s engine. 

Off the Maxwell drove with a clank of tire chains, westward on a transcontinental crusade...

Stop back for Part 4, where we cover more details of the first all-female, cross-country road trip.