Van Buren sisters

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Augusta Van Buren
Augusta Van Buren.jpg
Born 1892
Occupation Librarian, pilot
Known for First woman to motorcycle across the USA
Adeline Van Buren
Adeline Van Buren.jpg
Born 1894
Occupation Lawyer, educator
Known for First woman to motorcycle across the USA
Indian Power Plus 1000 cc 1920.jpg

Augusta and Adeline Van Buren, sisters, were the first women to ride 5,500 miles in 60 days over hazardous roads to cross the continental United States, each by their own solo motorcycle, in 1916.[1] They descended from Martin Van Buren, the eighth President of the United States, and were "society girls".[2]

In 2002, the sisters were inducted into the AMA's Motorcycle Hall of Fame and into the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame during 2003.

The ride[edit]

Van Buren journey.jpg

In 1916, America was about to enter into World War I. At the time, both 24-year-old Augusta and 22-year-old Adeline Van Buren, or Gussie and Addie as they were known, were in their 20s, active in the national Preparedness Movement and wanted to prove that women could ride as well as men and were able to serve as military dispatch riders freeing up men for other tasks.[3] They also hoped to remove one of the primary arguments for denying women the right to vote.[4][5] For their ride, they dressed in military-style leggings and leather riding breeches,[6] a taboo at that time.[2]

They set out from Sheepshead Bay racetrack in Brooklyn, New York on July 4, riding 1,000 cc Indian Power Plus motorcycles equipped with gas headlights and arrived in Los Angeles on September 8 after having to contend with poor roads,[7] heavy rains and mud,[8] natural barriers like the Rocky Mountains and social barriers such as the local police who took offence at their choice of men's clothing. They became the first women to reach the 14,109 feet summit of Pikes Peak by any motor vehicle.[9] The Indians were the top of the range motorcycle at the time, selling for $275, and ran Firestone "non-skid" tires.[10]

Despite succeeding, the sister's application to the military as a dispatch rider was rejected. Reports in the leading motorcycling magazine of the day praised the bike, but not the sisters and described the journey as a "vacation".[11] Other newspapers published degrading articles accusing the sisters of using the national preparedness issue as an excellent excuse to escape their roles as housewives and "display their feminine counters in nifty khaki and leather uniforms". During the ride, they were arrested numerous times, not for speeding but for wearing men's clothes.[12][13] At one point, they became lost in the desert 100 miles west of Salt Lake City and were saved by a prospector after their water ran out.[9] They completed their ride by traveling across the border to Tijuana in Mexico.

Both women eventually married. Adeline continued her career as an educator, and earned her law degree from New York University. Augusta became a pilot, flying in Amelia Earhart's Ninety-Nines international women's flying organization having played significant roles in the women’s rights movement.

The previous year had seen Effie Hotchkiss and her mother Avis travelling 9,000 miles on a Harley-Davidson V-twin with sidecar from New York on 3 May 1915 to San Francisco in mid-August, and back.[14]


In 1988, their achievement was celebrated by four female AMA members with the "Van Buren Transcon", a fund raising effort for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation supported by Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha designed to improve the public perception of motorcycling.[15][16]

Beyond question the Van Burens have made one of the most noteworth trips ever accomplished, chiefly because they have proven that the motorcycle is a universal vehicle." - Paul Derkum, Indian Motorcycle Company

In 2006 Bob Van Buren, great nephew of the Sisters, and his wife Rhonda Van Buren retraced the route taken by Aunt Gussie and Aunt Addie on a Harley-Davidson Low Rider from New York City to San Francisco. In line with the sister's desire to influence the military, the trip was a fundraiser for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and was launched from the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan. Although they had no sponsors, contributions from friends and supporters resulted in many checks which were all mailed to the Intrepid Fund to help build the new rehabilitation hospital at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio, TX. The Intrepid Center at BAMC provides needed services for soldiers with severe wounds returning from Iraq & Afghanistan. Planning by Bob & Rhonda for the 100th Anniversary Ride in 2016 has now begun.


  1. ^ Grace and Grit: Motorcycle Dispatches from Early 20th Century Women Adventurers. William Murphy, Arbutus Press, 2012 ISBN 1933926333,
  2. ^ a b The Chrome Cowgirl Guide to the Motorcycle Life. Sasha Mullins. MotorBooks International, 24 Sep 2008
  3. ^ The Sketch: A Journal of Art and Actuality, Volume 95. Ingram brothers, 1916
  4. ^ The world on wheels: an illustrated history of the bicycle and its relatives. Ruth Calif. Cornwall Books, 1983
  5. ^ Motorcycle. Steven E. Alford, Suzanne Ferriss. Reaktion Books, 3 Jan 2008
  6. ^ Harley-Davidson and Philosophy: Full-Throttle Aristotle. Bernard E. Rollin
  7. ^ Sisters of the Road, American Motorcyclist Jun 1996
  8. ^ Recreation, Volume 55, Issue 5. Outdoor World Publishing Company., 1916
  9. ^ a b Ms. magazine, Volume 6, Issues 7-12. Ms. Foundation for Education and Communication, 1978
  10. ^ Northern automotive journal, Volumes 24-25. Mechanics' Mutual Benefit Association of North Dakota, Mechanics' Mutual Benefit Association of South Dakota, Bruce Publishing Company., 1916
  11. ^ Motorcycle Illustrated, 27 July 1916
  12. ^ The Denver Post, 1916. Anne Ruderman and Jo Giovanni, "Adeline and Augusta Van Buren, Pioneers in Women in Motorcycling" Asphalt Angels 74, 1998, pp 11-15
  13. ^ Harley-Davidson and Philosophy: Full-Throttle Aristotle. Bernard E. Rollin. Open Court Publishing, 9 Feb 2006
  14. ^ Making Her Mark: Firsts and Milestones in Women's Sports. Ernestine G. Miller. McGraw-Hill Professional, 29 May 2002
  15. ^ Women RIders Chosen. American Motorcyclist Jun 1988
  16. ^ Savvy woman, Volume 10, Issues 7-12. Family Media Inc., 1989

External links[edit]