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Alice in Yonder Land: In 1909, Alice Ramsey became the first woman to drive across America | Hagerty Media

Alice Ramsey said that starting a car with a crank was a "clash with an unpredictable temperament; a gamble with a possible broken arm." The words of the first woman to drive across the United States back in 1909 echoed in my head as I grab the metal handle jutting out of the grille on the 1906 Maxwell in front of me, a car similar to the one Ramsey drove.
Intermediate Driver

It was an accomplishment to just change men's deeply ingrained attitude toward women. I have a 1913 Ford Model T advertising booklet that says, "The simplicity of the Ford is one of its most popular features with the ladies. There is no shifting of gears- nothing of a complicated nature to confuse a woman."
Ford Motor Company knew that with a Model T women need not worry their pretty little heads, assuming there was a man around to get it started.
Pit Crew

Beautiful story.
Pit Crew

I was the 1st man to drive my wife's friend's Porsche 911 after she took delivery of it.
Hopefully, I'll be remembered in 112 years for allowing her to be the 1st woman to allow me, a man, to drive her fancy sportscar what with all it's doodads, whatnots and automatic transmission.
What modern times these are!!
Advanced Driver

Wow, you sound like a real manly man, I bet you drive a real muscle car to show how manly you are.
Intermediate Driver

I am already forgetting about you. Try birthing a baby if you want to be remembered.
New Driver

Awesome article. My wife and I read and discussed it. Please do more historical articles like this! Small video snippets would add a nice touch too, although the 'theater of the mind' works well thanks to the wonderfully descriptive writing.

No video snippets that far back! But this really was wonderful.
Intermediate Driver

As owner of 3 era cars - '27 T, '13 Metz, '11 Metz - and friends of numerous other T and Metz owners owners - '14 & '17 T, '15 & '18 Metz - I tire of the myth surrounding crank starting an old car. Arm breaking? Simply set the timing lever (if it has one) correctly and it will not kick back. Just watch your "friends" closely that they do not advance the lever (a common "practical" joke) while your attention is somewhere else. 2 People to start? Why, the engine will idle nicely waiting your next move. Beware, however, once warm, a T (and other cars with trembler coil ignition) may even start on its own when the ignition is turned to "BAT" (battery). Need a man to start? Come on, in this day and age of "equal rights"? These are very low compression engines - 4to1 compression ratio or less. Any woman of good health has more than sufficient strength to flip over the crank and start the engine. In the day Ford, and others, commonly targeted advertising to the woman driver. And you'll note, in the advertising there is NEVER a man in sight to start the car.

Excellent story, Lyn, and so nicely written. Having driven long distances in primitive-for-the 60s cars, I have great respect for Alice Ramsey and her cohorts.

"Back in the day" folks who didn't want a broken wrist from hand-cranking knew to always pull the starting handle, not push it. That way if the engine kicked back, it would simply pull the handle out of your hand instead of giving you a smart rap.

AFAIK Renault was the last company to build cars that could be hand-cranked (1971 R-10). In 1966 the starter solenoid died on my daily driver 4CV, and a new one was a week away. When I couldn't find a slope to park on so that I could roll-start the car, I started it with a hand crank--and no manual spark advance. My father-in-law gave me the pull-don't-push tip to keep my wrist intact.
New Driver

Generally speaking your description of starting an early antique car is correct. As noted the moving of the spark advance lever is an extremely important event. When done correctly the car will start and run perfectly. However with a slip of your memory and the turn of the crank many people have broken an arm or finger as the engine simply fires too soon and rotates it back against your arm. My experience of cranking an antique 4-cylinder engine is much easier than cranking an antique 2-cyclinder of the same size. You are simply bringing up twice the cubic inches of compression at the same time. Everyone has watched the effort that old motorcycle riders go through to kick start a Harley-Davidson with 96 cubic inch 2-cylinders. This Maxwell she was trying to start has 196 cubic inches in 2 cylinders. I guarantee you it deserves all the respect Lyn Woodward placed upon it. I was very impressed with the ease that Lyn Woodward was able to grasp and understand the driving of this type of car. Antique cars can be a handful. Lyn has proven to be a very gifted writer and I appreciate the homage that she has given to Alice Ramsey. To have a great writer and gifted car enthusiast is a blessing, thank you Lyn and crew.

Pit Crew

Great article, Lyn! So much rich history that is out there to know about. I appreciate the automotive pioneers like Alice Ramsey and her friends who had what it took to push envelope past what many of us would have thought possible. Good work by them and by you!
Intermediate Driver

It was twenty years LATER that the tampon was invented. These ladies had ‘brass ovaries’!
Advanced Driver

There were a lot of pioneering women in the early days of motoring that have been forgotten. Thank you for mentioning a few of them. Something you might have wanted to mention is that when your wrist is broken by the starter crank hitting it that is called a "Ford Fracture", you can look it up. The Reason Henry Ford worked so hard to get a starter motor on his cars was because his wife refused to drive his car without a way to start the car without risking her wrist. She instead drove an Edison Electric car until Ford had an electric starter.

"With all its extra gear and passengers, the normally 2100-pound Maxwell weighed more than 3800 pounds." If these numbers are correct I'm amazed they didn't suffer a tire failure every 20 miles.

One of the best stories about a strong, determined woman & a car better than it had to be at the time. I can only relate to how their behinds felt from my trip in a Fiat 1100 from Seneca Falls, NY to Miami, FL in 1967. Even a Shriner's ceremonial imitation was no match for that trip.

“Good driving has nothing to do with sex,” she said. “It’s all above the collar.” Great quote!

Excellent writing, remarkable story.
New Driver

What a great article. I read the entire well written article, and admire how it kept me riveted to the story line. Excellent job. Bravo!
Intermediate Driver

Boy, her trip was the precursor to the motoring world going south, women drivers !!
( Just Kidding )
New Driver

Great article, loved every bit of it. Now, if I could have had you as my history teacher 35 years ago, I wouldn’t be as old as I am just learning about these history making people. I’d love to see more articles like this on early automotive pioneers.
Intermediate Driver

Wonderful, inspirational story of gritty determination. If anyone thinks that taking a cross country trip in a Miata shows true grit, just remember everything is relative. Just think of Alice Ramsey!
Intermediate Driver

I agree with others; excellent article! I sent it to all the women in my family as well as my car guy friends, suggesting they share it with their ladies. I hope you’ll continue to share these kinds of historical stories. Thank you....well done!
Pit Crew

Great writing, Lyn. Thank you, I love automotive history

Damn what a great story! I say that as someone who's crossed the country multiple times by car, and once by bicycle. What a wonderfully resourceful woman Ramsey was!

I bicycled the 3000 miles from Seattle to Boston (cutting up into Canada at Sault St. Marie and back down into the US at the northeast corner of New York state) faster than she did the 2800 or so miles NYC to LA--45 vs 59. But 1972 bicycle technology was much more advanced than 1909 automotive tech, and the roads were far, far, far better in 1975, so I'd definitely count her voyage much more of an achievement than mine. (I did pack the bottom bracket bearing at Alvin's Lawnmower Shop in Havre, Montana, and I had to fix multiple flats on one companion's bicycle and do a few other minor repairs, and I had to put on a new rear tire after 2000 miles, but I did not suffer any flats--again, my fixes were minor operations compared to Ramsey's.)

That $1800 purchase price for the Maxwell amounts to $51,700, inflation adjusted, according to this CPI based inflation calculator
Pit Crew

Pit Crew

It is great to see that the car was right hand drive like most American cars of the time.

Why America changed is subject to much conjecture.

Just have a look through the many car museums in the world including the USA to see just how many of the American cars on display are RHD before the USA went their own way and ruined what could have been a rare case of uniformity for the world.


Congratulations to the 4 esp on this the 3rd day of International Women's Week (over nxt Monday). Let the women (& children) lead (esp a 22 & 16 y/o 'youngin' among them) us as they took a strategic menuver knocking 3 days offa the men's record !
"It all above the collar" (cept that crank handle, shovin fence posts under tires, ropein cars together to get over unpaved mountain tops, and all the rest these gals did Toget'er Done!
Thanks, we need more articles like this and more authors like this ! Women wrenchin their own rest0mods, winnin races on the track, reviewin the newer cars out, etc...

What a remarkable group. I find it impressive that everyone completed the journey. What fun it would have been to talk to any of them about the journey. A great story well told.