written by Sue Macy
2017 (National Geographic)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
The impact of the automobile on the fight for suffrage could not be denied.
On June 9, 1909, Alice Ramsey set out in a 30-horsepower Maxwell DA touring car from New York City in an attempt to be the first female driver to cross the United States. To compare, today’s Toyota Prius has about a 99 horsepower engine. Ramsey had to deal with many roads that were unpaved, muddy, and full of large holes filled with water due to thunderstorms. She dealt with thirty foot deep irrigation ditches that crossed roads in Wyoming. A prairie dog hole in Utah caused a break in the front axle and Ramsey changed 11 tires during the 3,800 mile long trip. After 60 days of driving, with “18 days off for rest and repairs”, the crew made it to San Francisco and into the history books. When faced with adversity, Ramsey replied “There was only one thing to do. And that was to go ahead as well as we might and try to get out of it.” Ramsey’s journey inspired more long trips in automobiles and sent the message that women were very capable of handling this fairly new mode of transportation and the hazards that came with it.
I’m really impressed with this book. There are many threads that author Sue Macy weaves through it. First, we get to meet many “motor girls” like Alice Ramsey who would be great new additions to biography units and classroom wax museums. Additionally, they’re terrific examples of positive character traits like courage and determination. Macy also leads readers through the connection between the automobile and the women’s suffrage movement. Groups supporting suffrage traveled across the country, in cars, gathering signatures on petitions that would help push legislators to ratify the 19th amendment in 1920 and grant females citizens the right to vote. As if that isn’t enough, there’s another thread of the history of the automobile. Motor Girls is a fascinating ride on the road of American history.