LATROBE (KDKA) – One hundred years ago, two sisters set out on a journey across America to prove that they, and all women, could do whatever they wanted.
They rode on motorcycles, the first two women to ever ride across the country like that. And now, 100 years later, a group is re-tracing their route on yet another mission of empowerment.
Twenty-five percent of all motorcycle riders are now women, and they can all trace their roots back to Augusta and Adeline Van Buren. In 1916, the Van Buren sisters got on two motorcycles in Brooklyn, N.Y., and took off for San Francisco. Their cross-country ride was triggered by their frustrations of constantly being told that women could not do certain things.
“They were really out to show the world, to show the army, to show America, that women could contribute to the country, that women could have opinions about what direction the country should go in,” Dan Ruderman, Adeline Van Buren’s grandson, said.
The sisters first offered to be couriers for the U.S. Army, riding dispatches to and from the front lines of World War I. But the military told them no, that war was no place for women. So the sisters then offered their help to the Red Cross. Again, they were told no, unless they wanted to be nurses.
“They did a lot of different things,” Sarah Van Buren, the sisters’ great-great niece, said. “Not only did they ride motorcycles, but they played all kinds of sports, they rode horses, they shot guns. Augusta later became a pilot; she was a part of the Ninety-Nines all-women flying club with Amelia Earhart. So they really flew in the face of convention of the time.”
Friday, the group retracing the sisters’ ride rolled into Latrobe on Lincoln Highway, the same route Augusta and Adeline took so long ago.
Right now, there are 70 people in the group. By the time they get to California, they’ll be 250 strong.
This journey will take 3 weeks. For the sisters, it took 3 months of riding on dirt and mud, through rain and snow, and even a few roadblocks from police.
“Police arrested and harassed them for wearing men’s clothing,” Ruderman said. “They couldn’t very well ride a motorcycle in dresses, as would’ve been expected for women of the time. So they wore leather pants and leather jackets, and they got arrested for it.”
For this group, the ride is just as much about remembering Augusta and Adeline, as it is helping others find their own inner strength.
“I hope that people learning about this ride will feel more pushed to take a risk, to do something they didn’t think they could do,” Sarah Van Buren said. “Maybe it’ll empower somebody. Who knows?”
“I think every woman who rides a motorcycle has a story of personal empowerment through motorcycling,” event organizer Alisa Clickenger said, “and we like to show America that ‘women can if she will,’ like Augusta Van Buren said.”
Also on the ride, the group is raising money for Final Salute, a charity that helps homeless female veterans.