Women Riders

Women in Motorcycle History - Effie Hotchkiss

Written by  February 28, 2009

Effie Hotchkiss was a 20-year-old bank clerk on Wall Street who daydreamed about taking to the open road on a motorcycle.

The year was 1915. Motorcycles had been in use for almost 30 years and were becoming popular with women who had used bicycles for their previous mode of transportation. The US House of Representatives in January had rejected a proposal giving women the right to vote. There were still cowboys and Indians, paved roads were a rarity, and women did not travel alone across country.

Effie, using a small inheritance from the sale of a family farm, bought a 1915 three-speed Harley V-Twin and made the decision to embark on a cross-country trek to the San Francisco World’s Fair. Her mother didn’t want her to go alone, so, being the open-minded woman she was, decided to accompany her daughter. A sidecar was necessary, and mother Avis, nestled in beside her daughter, became part of motorcycle history: The first women to cross the US on a motorcycle.

The trip, which they began on May 2, 1915, took over two months to complete as they meandered over 5,000 miles of dangerous terrain and extreme temperatures. They brought along tools and extra parts to be able to make their own numerous repairs. When they ran out of inner tubes, they cut a blanket down to inner tube length to get them as far as Santa Fe, where they replenished their supplies.

In September 1915, the Harley-Davidson dealer’s magazine wrote that the women faced “bad roads, heat, cold, rain, floods, and all such things with a shrug of their shoulders.” Effie stated that she hadn’t intended to make news, just that she and her mother “wanted to see America and considered that the three-speed Harley-Davidson for myself and sidecar for mother and the luggage best suited for the job."

Effie made it a point to step into the Pacific Ocean so that she could say she experienced the waters of both coasts. Before heading back east, Effie met her future husband in San Francisco when she ran over him as he stepped in front of her motorcycle.
In August, Effie and her mother made the two-month trip back to Brooklyn, their names securely placed in motorcycle history.

Next month: More women who made motorcycle history.