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Women in Motorcycling

Why Not Give the Girls a Chance? Thousands of Them Would Enjoy and Be a Credit to the Sport of Motorcycling If Someone Would Set the Fashion — an article featured in the motorcycle trade magazine Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated in October, 1921 prompted dealers to take a look in their own backyards to find potential women riders among their spouses and daughters. It stated that dealers should encourage the women in their families to ride to set an example for the women of the men that purchased their machines to do the same.

The article provides quotes from women all over the country touting the benefits and rewards of piloting their own machines. And guess what, the reasons given by these women were the same as those voiced by the guys: good health, fun, adventure and excitement.

Harley-Davidson had, since 1912, included illustrations of women participating in the sport of motorcycling in their model catalogs, but only as passengers. However, in the 1921 model catalog, Harley included a mention of how the sport of motorcycling was growing among women, not only as passengers but as solo riders.

Even before the 1921 article and the Harley-Davidson model catalog, the adventures of several women riders had already been documented in the Harley-Davidson magazines The Harley-Davidson Dealer and The Enthusiast. Two of the stories were those of Della Crewe (1914) and Avis and Effie Hotchkiss (1915).

Della Crewe – Where She Goes Trouble Follows

At a time when even the hardiest of men would think twice about making a cross-country trip through nearly impassible roadways, a young women was about to show them how it’s done.

Miss Della Crewe, a Wisconsin native, was an experienced traveler, having explored almost all of North America, Alaska and Panama. Her decision to try motorcycle travel came from a suggestion by her nephew during a visit to her hometown. After Della had remarked on the number of motorcycles she had observed, her nephew suggested that a motorcycle would be a great way for her to travel and see the sights.

Miss Crewe initially purchased a two-speed single for her adventure. Mother Nature had other ideas and sent rains that washed out virtually all avenues of exit from Waco, Texas where Miss Crewe had settled. Her friends urged her to have her bike shipped outside of the destroyed area, but she insisted that she was going to start her travels from Waco, Texas and “make every mile a Harley-Davidson mile.” While waiting for the roads and bridges to be restored, Miss Crewe became interested in the sidecar thinking that it would be a great asset in her travels. So she traded in her two-speed single for a two-speed twin with sidecar.

On July 24, 1914 Della Crewe, with 125 pounds of supplies loaded in her sidecar, set out for what would be a 5,378 mile trip from Waco, Texas to New York City with side trips interwoven in her itinerary. As a parting gift the people of Waco presented Della with a thoroughbred Boston bull pup. Della named her new companion Trouble and stated, “Trouble is the only trouble I will have with me on this trip.”

Della’s first stop was the July 3rd motorcycle races in Dodge City, Kansas. This added 300 miles to her route to Milwaukee. Maneuvering through muddy, badly rutted roads, which included a four mile detour through wheat fields, Della reached the races garnering the admiration of all who attended. This trip of 973 miles was just the beginning.

From Dodge City, Della traveled through several cities making her way to St. Louis, Missouri for the annual convention of the Federation of American Motorcyclists, the predecessor of the American Motorcycle Association. Miss Crewe then made her way to Chicago where she was greeted by C. H. Lang, Harley-Davidson’s first dealer. On her way to Milwaukee, Miss Crewe’s was accompanied by a Mr. R. F. Rogers of Ravenswood, Illinois where Miss Crewe noted, “When I arrived in Milwaukee, I had passed through six states and my expenses had not exceeded $25.” By this time, Miss Crewe had also logged 2,147 miles. While in Milwaukee, Miss Crewe was treated to a picnic held at Castalia Spring in the upper Menominee valley, arranged by the stenographers employed at the Harley-Davidson offices.

After leaving Milwaukee, Miss Crewe travelled south back through Chicago into Indiana where, it has been reported, Miss Crewe was stopped not once but twice because of Trouble. Indiana was under quarantine for hoof and mouth disease in 1914 and it has been reported that Della had to promise authorities that Trouble would not leave that sidecar until they were safety out of Indiana (although Miss Crewe mentions nothing about this in her personal account of her travels published in The Harley-Davidson Dealer).

Della had spent the summer and fall months of 1914 traveling from Waco to Milwaukee. As a result, she found herself battling cold weather (below zero degrees) and snow-covered (drifts above her head) roads while traveling through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. She reports of one instance where she was able to cover only 2-1/2 miles in two hours. Miss Crewe and Trouble arrived in New York City in December 1914, she reportedly wearing four coats, four pairs of stockings and heavy sheepskin shoes and Trouble in a special made-to-order sweater. She had traveled 5,378 miles and covered ten states over a span of six months. Upon her arrival in New York, Miss Crewe stated: “I had a glorious trip, I am in perfect health and my desire is stronger than ever to keep going.”

Della had originally planned to sail to Europe and travel through that continent, but because of the ongoing war, she altered her plans and a few days following her arrival in New York, Della, Trouble and her 1914 Harley-Davidson Twin sailed to Jacksonville, Florida with plans to travel through the southern portion of the United States, Cuba and South America.

Avis and Effie Hotchkiss – We Merely Wanted to See America!

Imagine rolling down a concrete ribbon of highway and thinking – “This is the life!” Now you’re redirected to a 2-lane asphalt highway. You think – “Still not bad.” Then you’re on a dirt road – oh and it’s raining, a lot! Now imagine yourself doing this on a 1915 11-F with a sidecar! That’s just one of the obstacles Effie Hotchkiss and her mother Avis, faced when they set out to cross the continental United States, not once but twice, in 1915.

Effie was a single professional woman who had dreamed of, but had never actually seen, the wide open spaces to be found outside of Brooklyn, New York. Overstressed, she was given a common prescription, “… give up all work and take a complete rest.” Using money left to her after her father’s death, Effie bought a motorcycle. After she had mastered the controls, and learned to make her own repairs, she added a sidecar and began taking her mother along on trips outside the city.

According to Effie it was Avis, her mother, who came up with the idea for the cross country trip. In Effie’s account in the first issue of The Harley-Davidson Enthusiast, published in 1916, Avis is quoted as saying, “Let’s go to California. It’s the furthest-away place I can think of. And we can see the exposition.” The exposition being the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 in San Francisco.

Bankrolled by Effie’s brother and sister, the mother-daughter team left Brooklyn on May 2nd, 1915. Fame was not their intention, Effie states, “We merely 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.”

By taking the southern route, they crossed into California enduring temperatures in excess of 120 degrees Fahrenheit, came within feet of a rattlesnake (which Effie handily dispatched with her handgun), and came face-to-face with a coyote which met the same fate as the rattlesnake. The Hotchkisses also recounted that while in New Mexico, they had run out of spare inner tubes. The ingenious duo took a blanket from their supplies, cut it down to inner tube length, rolled it and stuffed it into the tire.

Finally, in August, the team dipped their wheels in the Pacific Ocean at San Francisco and became the first women to cross the United States on a motorcycle. Taking a northern route, their return journey included crossing the deserts of Nevada and Utah.

Effie and Avis Hotchkiss finally returned to their home in Brooklyn in October of 1915, having traveled approximately 9,000 miles, covering more than one-third of the United States, over five months. While glad to see the family they had left behind, they were already looking forward to their next trips. In the end it didn’t matter whether they had set out to, they had motorcycled their way into the record books and motorcycling history.

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