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Alice Huyler Ramsey

AKA Alice Taylor Huyler Ramsey

Born: 11-Nov-1886
Birthplace: Hackensack, NJ
Died: 1983
Location of death: Covina, CA
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Hackensack Cemetery, Hackensack, NJ

Gender: Female
Religion: Anglican/Episcopalian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Daredevil

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: First woman to drive an auto across America

Alice Huyler Ramsey enjoyed horseback riding, and after a few automobiles began traversing the streets of Hackensack her husband presented her with a shiny new 1908 Maxwell (then a popular brand of automobile). After taking driving lessons at the local Maxwell dealership, she motored the roads of New Jersey, driving thousands of miles within the state in just one summer. When the dealership heard about Ramsey's driving, she was asked to enter an automotive endurance test in September 1908, a grueling 200-mile drive on unpaved roads. She handled the vehicle masterfully, received a perfect score, and drew great media attention as one of only two women drivers in the event. After this, Maxwell sales manager Cadwallader Washburn Kelsey asked Mrs Ramsey to undertake what became the biggest publicity stunt of the year, a cross-country drive from New York City to San Francisco, in a new Maxwell.

In a time before interstate freeways, when many of the busiest back-country roads were not yet paved or even graveled but mere mud ruts, transcontinental drives were rare and respected accomplishments. The transcontinental speed record had recently been reduced from 63 days to a mere 15 days, but no female driver had yet accomplished the challenge. The company supplied Ramsey with a new 30-horsepower four-cylinder Maxwell, paid all expenses, and informed its dealerships of her itinerary, instructing them to have parts and mechanics on call in case of mechanical breakdowns. She was accompanied by two of her sisters-in-law and a friend, none of whom knew how to drive, and a Maxwell press flack (in a separate car). With numerous breakdowns, a dozen flat tires, and almost-daily press conferences and meet-and-greet functions in every town of any size, her drive was more of a spectacle than a speed competition, but she completed the 3,800-mile trip in 59 days, arriving in San Francisco on 10 August 1909. More importantly for her sponsors, sales of Maxwell autos more than doubled, and the company let Ramsey keep the car.

She lived the rest of her life in relative obscurity, raising two children with her husband and driving until a year before her death in 1983. Her husband, John Rathbone Ramsey, represented New Jersey's Sixth District in Congress from 1917-21. He never learned to drive, and said until his death that he remained ill at ease riding in automobiles.

Father: John Edwin Huyler (lumber dealer)
Mother: Ada Mumford Farr Huyler
Husband: John Rathbone Ramsey (US Congressman, b. 25-Apr-1862, m. 10-Jan-1906, d. 10-Apr-1933)
Son: John Ramsey (b. 1907)
Daughter: Alice Ramsey Bruns (b. 1910)

    High School: Hackensack High School, Hackensack, NJ (1903)
    University: Vassar College (attended 1903-05)

    Automotive Hall of Fame

Author of books:
Veil, Duster and Tire Iron (1961, memoir)

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