Memories of Yesteryear

Part 9

Women who 'marked their time'

Miss 'Cy' Woodman
Attempting a Coast to Coast ride

Miss 'Cy' Woodman was a magazine writer and a lecturer who owned a 1912 Flanders 4 motorcycle. Unfortunately, there's very little information available about her and that which we have unearthed seems quite contradictory.

One thing is certain though; in 1913 Miss Woodman endeavoured to be the first woman motorcyclist to ride from New York to New Mexico.

Her trip across the continent came as a result of a conversation at the Press Club in New York City when she remarked that men were not the only people with sufficient nerves to undertake such a task. As such, a challenge ensued to make good on her statement and achieve her goal as a woman rider.

Although she failed in her attempt, she nonetheless deserves to be included in my honour roll of great female pioneers for having had the courage to take on this challenge

Some newspaper articles from the time reported her feat, but make no mention of her being forced to continue her journey by train because of unexpected appendicitis.

Although she failed in her attempt, she nonetheless deserves to be included in my honour roll of great female pioneers for having had the courage to take on this challenge.

The very few newspaper clippings that have survived from over 100 years ago, show that Miss Woodman was extremely tough.

ACCIDENTS DO NOT DETER THIS WOMAN Miss Cy Woodman, Jounalist, Continues Journey Despite Injury. FALLS FROM MACHINE Rides Thirty Miles With Black Eye and a Bad Rib. STAYED HERE OVER NIGHT Miss Cy Woodman Completes 5,000 Mile Motorcycle Ride A 5,000-mile motorcycle tour from New York to New Mexico has been completed by Miss Cy Woodman. When Miss Woodman started on her long journey she had been on a motorcycle only a few times and then only on short trips around New York. However, she had no difficulty in mastering her mount and within a few days after her start west she was able to average 150 miles in five hours of riding a day. Miss Woodman traveled alone. She was not trying to make any time record, but made stops and side trips whenever she desired along the route. On one of these side trips she joined a coyote hunt for the day. One of her most exciting experiences was when she encountered a Kansas sand storm.

Newspapers of the time show her coast-to-coast trip wasn't without incident

One paper mentions that 30 miles east of Des Moines she was thrown from her motorcycle. Despite this, and her resulting injuries she found the courage to make her way to the city.

She was flying down a steep hill when her motorcycle hit sand at the bottom of the incline. Miss Woodman flew through the air, landed in a heap and her eye was badly injured in the fall. Her ribs were damaged and she was badly injured.

She then rode 7 miles to the nearest town where she procured some witch-hazel and bandages for her eye and a doctor patched up her ribs with bandages. He wouldn't touch her eye however. She carried on with only one eye in commission, every jolt making the injuries to her ribs worse.

The 1912 Flanders '4' on which she accomplished her attempt

The next town was in sight but in going down a steep hill she stalled the engine and without strength to lift the big machine was forced to push it a mile before she could get it going again.

It is interesting to note this article of the time in the press: "Miss Woodman is not a suffragette; not one of the militant types at least. She thinks women are not going about things in the right way to secure the ballot."

At the end of her journey she told the members of the Los Angeles motorcycle club: "I now feel qualified to state that if a woman has a comb, a toothbrush and a nail file, she can travel almost anywhere in comfort, even on a motorcycle."

Sadie Grimm - Canadian teen marvel

American women are certainly not the only ones to have made a name for themselves in the early 1910s. Among their Canadian neighbours, a certain Sadie Mildred Grimm became a pioneer of the feminine gender in June 1914.

She became the winner of the first motorcycling prize ever awarded in Canada to a woman in a competition also open to men. What made this achievement even more remarkable is that nineteen-year-old Sadie succeeded where many male riders before her had failed.

Back in the winter of 1913/14, the Manitoba Motorcycle Club had offered a medal to the first motorcyclist to make the trip from Winnipeg to Winnipeg Beach. While this almost 100-kilometre challenge might seem an odd choice today, it was the perfect fit for the time.

Founded on 21 February 1911, The Manitoba Motorcycle Club is the oldest MC Club in Canada

By 1914, Winnipeg Beach had become one of the most desirable travel destinations from Winnipeg with many thousands travelling by train each weekend. The explosion of car and motorcycle ownership was accompanied by growing dissatisfaction with the lack of serviceable roads and became a growing political issue. There was a growing resentment that the lack of proper roads gave the railway an unfair monopoly.

It was reported that there were numerous unsuccessful attempts to make the trip to the Beach with some motorcyclists trying while the ground was frozen. Others tried in the spring, but found the swamps impossible.

According to past club president Ross Metcalfe, in the late teens and 1920s, the Manitoba MC became something of a gentlemen's sporting club. Members were always dressed to the nines and wore their sweaters and ties

On Sunday morning 14 June 1914, Sadie Grimm left Winnipeg on her 1914 7-hp Big Twin Indian motorcycle planning to get there via Selkirk.

Unknown to Sadie, at least one other motorcyclist with a side car was also making an attempt that day. It turned out later that he ran out of fuel west of the Beach and arrived several hours too late to claim the prize.

Teen Sadie Grimm standing beside her 1914 7hp Big Twin motorcycle

The Manitoba Free Press described her ride as follows:

For twenty-five miles she had to fight against gravel eight inches deep while doing thirty miles an hour; she took several graceful slides but picked herself up unhurt.

From Selkirk to St. Louis, (now Petersfield), the road was in a fair condition, but from then on it was all bog and pot holes. After riding paths and mudholes alternatively, Miss Grimm decided to try the railroad track. This she found very bumpy but much preferable to the mudholes interspersed with stumps and roots.

After four hours plugging away, Miss Grimm registered at the Empress Hotel and was told she was the first one to make it through. Miss Grimm, not satisfied with her achievement, turned around after a few hours' rest and rode back to the city via Teulon, completing one of the most strenuous rides ever attempted by a Manitoba motorcyclist.

Sadie's novel achievement made her an obvious choice as a spokesperson for women in motorcycling

Sadie's novel achievement made her an obvious choice as a spokesperson for women in motorcycling.

In an article published in July 1914, the Winnipeg Tribune quoted her promoting the activity as benefiting both health and independence for women.

Effie and Avis Hotchkiss
First Women to Ride Cross Country

One day, while still in her early teens, Effie was out walking her dogs near her home in Brooklyn. Suddenly a group of motorcycles roared past, fanning an immediate desire to own one herself. Finally, after years of scrimping and saving she purchased a Marsh Metz. Though little more than a motorized bicycle, it was enough to get her started.

In this pre-journey shot, circa 1914, Effie proudly stands by her motorcycle. She went through a series of used machines before buying a new Harley-Davidson for the journey

Effie then upgraded to a single-cylinder Harley-Davidson. Ted, the handsome young Irish lad who had sold her that machine became her next riding partner. Effie, however, struggled to keep up with Ted and his mates, who all rode two-cylinder machines. That is, until Effie got one of her own. Although she was slender and weighed only 110 pounds, she quickly proved that she could handle her machine just like the big boys, and repair it, too.

In the summer of 1914 Everett turned 21 and, with her siblings, acquired shares in their father's estate. Effie knew exactly what to do with hers; buy a new Harley-Davidson and head for California.

Motoring across the United States a century ago was no easy task, given the lack of paved roads, signage and service stations, among other less obvious hardships.

When 26-year-old Effie Hotchkiss set off from her home in Brooklyn, New York, on 2 May 1915 for the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, astride her 3-speed Harley-Davidson, she was bound to raise a few eyebrows, even if she hadn't crammed her rotund 52-year-old mother in the sidecar.

Effie Hotchkiss was a spirited young woman who worked on New York's Wall Street. As Effie would recount in an unpublished memoir written some 25 years later, she was first and foremost a motorcycle fanatic tired of her clerical job and eager to see the world.

Effie and Avis racked up 9,000 miles on their round trip, becoming the first women to make a cross-country trip on a motorcycle, as well the first to make it as a complete round trip

At the age of 26, she heard the call to 'Go West.' Just as soon as I made up my mind to go to California," Effie related, "I asked mother if she would come along. She said it was a good thing I did, for she would have immediately invited herself.

In the case of Avis, however, it was neither a love of motorcycles nor of travel that compelled her to accompany her daughter. Her main goal, it seems, was to keep Effie's speed in check by inflating the weight of the ensemble to nearly half a ton (she herself contributed almost a quarter of that total).

Avis's concerns were not unfounded, given that Effie had earned a reputation as a speed demon. The year before, she had received her first penalty when she was caught travelling at 35 mph on Brooklyn's Ocean Parkway. My machine really doesn't run well unless it does over 30, she sheepishly explained to the police. She once clocked herself going over 70 mph in her neighbourhood.

California 1914: Effie, wearing goggles and riding gloves, tooling around Brooklyn on her two-cylinder machine, with a beaming female passenger. Effie earned a reputation as a speed demon

On 2 May 1915, the year when 25,000 women marched in New York City demanding the right to vote, Effie herself defied society's norms starting out for San Francisco with a goal to see the country. Little did she know what this trip would actually mean for her as this trip was to secure Effie's place in history.

Miss Effie Hotchkiss, Brooklyn Girl Who Plans, With Her Mother, Cycle Trip to Pacific Coast GIRL TO TAKE MOTHER CYCLING TO PACIFIC

Newspaper clipping from the time

This odyssey, however, was no publicity stunt driven by commercial interests, though Harley-Davidson, upon discovering the story, happily exclaimed the virtues of the pair. Nor was there any real cause attached to the journey, though Effie told one reporter that she hoped it would demonstrate that 'motorcycling is perfectly good as a sport for women.'

Shopping for a sidecar proved especially trying, given that it needed to accommodate Avis's ample frame along with all of their camping gear and tools.

"The one I finally bought," Effie recalled, "fits her well and also looked good." They affectionately dubbed the appendage 'The Bathtub.'

I received a lot of discouragement from the public, Effie recalled in her memoir. Decent roads would be non-existent for most of the way; there would be deserts to cross, high mountains to climb, lack of water, no repair shop. There were wild animals, wilder Indians, floods, cyclones and other acts of God. It was so interesting I would not have missed it for the world.

So off they went, travelling on abysmal roads whose surfaces were at best hard-packed dirt, and, at worst, foot-deep mud. They headed up the Hudson valley to Albany, turning west toward Buffalo, then on to Chicago, averaging 150 miles a day. They drew large crowds of curious onlookers wherever they stopped. They would typically rent rooms from the managers of the garages where they bought fuel or sought mechanical assistance.

En route: a mechanic at a service station secures the sidecar while Avis looks on

From Chicago they headed down to St. Louis, then across Missouri and Kansas into Colorado. Then they rode southwest to New Mexico. Suffering a flat, Effie created a makeshift inner tube by twisting their blankets together. At one point she had to leave her mother alone overnight at a campsite while she caught a train to Santa Fe to pick up a shipment of inner tubes.

An unidentified blacksmith kneels over the sidecar to inspect the chassis. The heavy 'bathtub' often came loose under stress.

A few nights later, on the fourth of July, sleeping outdoors again near Albuquerque, the same blankets together with two sweaters apiece barely kept them from freezing.

In Arizona, while they paused to see the Grand Canyon, a thief broke into the sidecar and made off with Effie's pistol.

Effie's motorcycle caked in mud, a common fate in this era of unpaved roads. Effie frequently had to extract the machine from the quagmire, with occasional help from her mom and passersby.

Then came the Mojave Desert, which they crossed in three days, travelling mostly at night. They covered their faces with handkerchiefs to keep them from blistering under the onslaught of wind-blown sand.

One man who saw Effie navigate the treacherous San Marcos Pass just north of Santa Barbara in 120-degree heat pronounced her the bravest and most skillful girl rider he'd ever met.

Can you imagine what crossing the United States from coast to coast would have been like to make that journey over 100 years ago?

Avis and Effie ran into their fair share of problems along the way. In addition to torrential rain, flooded roads, freezing cold and blazing hot temperatures, 'critters' of both the human and animal kind, Effie put her mechanical skills to the test. They experienced countless breakdowns and endless punctured tyres.

Effie recounted to a reporter how one day, just after leaving Chicago, they endured five punctures and one blowout. What did you do? gasped one incredulous eavesdropper. Fixed 'em, Effie replied nonchalantly.

Effie and Avis pose before the W & V Beecroft hardware store in Ossining, New York on 11 October 1915, just before their triumphant return to Brooklyn. They became the first women in history to ride a motorcycle from coast-to-coast, inspiring generations of women riders

In San Francisco, they toured the exhibition, whose list of distinctions included the first transcontinental phone call.

After months of traveling, Effie literally dipped her front wheel into the Pacific Ocean and found her way into the record books.

Effie symbolically poured Atlantic Ocean water carried across the continent into the Pacific to commemorate their journey

Leaving New York for this long and perilous adventure, they took with them in the sidecar a Mason jar filled with water from the Atlantic Ocean.

As it was customary at the time, Effie poured it into the Pacific to commemorate their journey, joining the east and west coasts.

It was time to head home.

- Jean-Francois Helias

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