Alice Ramsey's Historic Cross-Country Drive

In 1909, 22-year-old Alice Ramsey made history as the first woman to drive across the United States

Ramsey's trip across the United States took 59 days to complete and covered 3,800 miles. (Courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library)

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In 1999, when Alaska Airlines Magazine printed an article about the 90th anniversary of Ramsey’s trip, the story inspired car buff Richard Anderson and Emily, his daughter. On June 9, 2009, Anderson, a 37-year-old, Seattle-based event manager and new mother, will commemorate the drive’s centennial by making her own cross-country trip in a 1909 Maxwell rebuilt by her father.

Learning to drive the Maxwell has been challenging at times. Anderson often misses second gear and struggles with the clutch and brake, which use the same pedal, and she has been known to stall mid-intersection. But she calls her challenges “easy, when I consider what [Alice Ramsey] had to face.” There is one trial that, if accomplished, might impress even Ramsey: wearing period garb, Anderson and co-pilot Christie Catania will begin their trip by navigating through Manhattan on a weekday morning during rush hour!

Richard Anderson has already had to explain himself and his seatbelt-free car to one concerned police officer during a practice drive. Whether the car will also face flack for its lack of blinkers (they will use hand signals to turn) or slow pace (the Maxwell still maxes out near 40 mph) remains to be seen. But if the precedent set by Ramsey holds, there will be no problem with the authorities: throughout her entire driving career, she received just one ticket. She had made an illegal U-turn—though not, of course, on her famed cross-country trip—in 1909, Ramsey forged only straight ahead.


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