September 8, 1916 – The Van Buren sisters complete a cross country motorcycle ride

van buren sisters on motorcycles
The Van Buren sisters on their cross country motorcycle journey in 1916.

In the annals of motorcycle history, and history at large, there are stories that stand out as remarkable examples of courage and determination. Among these tales is the epic journey of the Van Buren sisters, Augusta and Adeline. They embarked on an extraordinary adventure in 1916 that would inspire generations to come. Riding their own motorcycles, they crossed the United States, covering an impressive 5,500 miles in 60 days. Their incredible journey, in part a bid to prove women could serve as military dispatch riders, not only tested the limits of early 20th-century technology but also shattered gender stereotypes, making them the second and third women to complete such a daring feat.

The Pioneering Spirit of the Van Buren Sisters

Augusta and Adeline Van Buren were not your average women of their time. Born into a family that valued independence and encouraged their daughters to pursue their passions, they were destined to break barriers. The sisters shared a love for motorcycles and believed in the potential of these machines to empower women and revolutionize transportation.

Inspired by Effie Hotchkiss, who became the first woman to complete a cross-country motorcycle journey the year before, Augusta and Adeline decided to embark on their own daring adventure. They understood the significance of their mission. They saw it not just as a personal challenge but as a statement of women’s capabilities in a world that often underestimated them.

The Cross Country Motorcycle Journey Begins

Indian Power Plus (not one of the sisters, but a similar model from c.1920.

On July 4, 1916, amidst a backdrop of patriotic fervor during World War I, Augusta and Adeline Van Buren set off from Sheepshead Bay, New York. Each sister rode her own Indian Power Plus motorcycle, a high-end machine in its day that cost $275. The journey ahead was arduous and uncertain, as the roads were far from the well-paved highways we know today.

The Van Buren sisters encountered numerous challenges along their route. They navigated unpaved roads, endured harsh weather conditions, and even faced multiple arrests. Why? Not for speeding for for wearing men’s clothing (which was practical for motorcycle riding). However, their determination never wavered. They pushed west, even becoming the first women to ascend Pikes Peak using a motor vehicle of any sort. They were not only trailblazing motorcyclists but also champions of women’s rights, advocating for their right to wear practical clothing and challenging societal norms that held women back.

The Triumph of September 8, 1916

After 60 days of grueling travel, Augusta and Adeline Van Buren triumphantly arrived in Los Angeles, California, on September 8, 1916. Their remarkable journey captured the attention of the media and the public, making headlines across the nation. In achieving their goal, they became symbols of women’s resilience and capabilities, showing that women could excel in traditionally male-dominated pursuits. They later applied to become military dispatch riders, only to have their applications denied.

The Van Buren sisters’ cross-country motorcycle journey was a significant milestone in the fight for women’s equality and recognition in the early 20th century. Their legacy endures as a testament to the spirit of adventure, determination, and the breaking of gender barriers. They inspired future generations of women to pursue their passions fearlessly and challenge societal expectations.

Augusta and Adeline Van Buren’s courageous cross-country motorcycle journey remains an inspiring and powerful story of female empowerment. Their determination, resilience, and unwavering commitment to challenging gender norms paved the way for countless women to pursue their dreams and passions. Their remarkable feat not only left an indelible mark on the history of motorcycling but also serves as a timeless reminder that with courage and determination, anyone can defy expectations and achieve greatness.

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