Crossing the country to fight for equality
May 4, 2021
By Kali Kotoski
During the run up to America’s inevitable involvement in World War 1, Augusta and Adeline Van Buren set out in 1916 to cross the country on Indian PowerPlus motorcycles to convince the United States Military that women were fit and capable to serve as dispatch riders—a move that would have freed up men to focus on the battlefront.
As “socialites” and the descendants of President Martin Van Buren, the ambitious trip was a norm-breaking endeavor to promote equality amid a growing suffragist movement that would lead to women gaining the right to vote in 1920.
Despite the military declining to enlist Adeline in the war effort, the sisters succeeded in proving that woman could handle the difficulties of riding long distances and in harsh conditions. Over 60 days the two rode 5,500 miles and became the first women to summit Pikes Peak on a motorized vehicle.
The journey was not without difficulties as the duo was arrested while crossing the Midwest, not because of speeding but because they were wearing leathers, which were only socially acceptable for men to wear.
After they finished their cross-country effort and rode into Los Angeles, the women returned to the East Coast where Adeline taught English and eventually received a law degree from New York University. Augusta, meanwhile, became a pilot and joined a group for female pilots created by Amelia Earhart.
Read their story and many more in the May issue of American Motorcyclist.