In 1916, Augusta and Adeline Van Buren were the first women to each ride her own motorcycle across the continental United States. The sisters left Sheepshead Bay, New York, on July 4, 1916, and arrived in San Francisco on September 2, having endured unpaved roads, hazardous conditions and nearly running out of water in the desert near Salt Lake. On the journey they also became the first women to reach the 14,115 f00t summit of Pikes Peak by any motorcycle vehicle.
The Van Buren sisters were born before the turn of the 20th century. Augusta was the elder of the two sister, born in March of 1884, and Adeline was born in July of 1889. They were raised in New York City with their brother Albert, enjoying an active athletic life and motorcycling was a natural progression for them. When the sisters made their journey women did not yet have the right to vote and Victorian society then placed extreme limitations on women.
Both women were active members in the National Preparedness Movement, which preceded the US entry into World War I. Their idea was that completing this adventure, would prove that women could be excellent dispatch riders in the war effort, freeing up the men for the front lines. Their journey on 1000 cc Indian motorcycles was extremely difficult at times requiring riding on unpaved, rutted and muddy roads. They overcame mechanical difficulties, fatigue and discrimination along the way.
After their remarkable achievement both Augusta and Adeline eventually married and pursued exceptional lives. Adeline earned her law degree from NYU and Augusta became a pilot, flying with the 99s, a women’s flying group founded by Amelia Earhart. In 2002 the sisters were inducted into the AMA’s Motorcycle Hall of Fame and into the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame in 2003.
Augusta and Adeline Van Buren broke the stereotypes of their time, proving women could do anything. In the words of Augusta, “Woman can if she will.”
Van Buren Sisters Web Pages: www.vanburensisters.com and www.VanBurenLegacy.com
AMA Hall of Fame: www.motorcyclemuseum.org/halloffame/detail.aspx?RacerID=285
Sturgis Hall of Fame: www.sturgishof.com/v.html
Reading that Inspired this Ride