Book Review: The American Motorcycle Girls 1900-1950

The American Motorcycle Girls 1900-1950
Book Review: The American Motorcycle Girls 1900-1950: A photographic History of Early Women Motorcyclists
[This book review of The American Motorcycle Girls 1900-1950 was originally published in American Rider magazine]

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing a truly well-archived scrapbook, you know what a moving experience it can be. Leafing through generations of accomplishments documented through newspaper clippings, you begin to see traces of yourself in the sepia images of your ancestors and it suddenly becomes clear that you are who you are today because of who they were then.

Scrapbooks break down into single footsteps the path your ancestors cleared to pave the roads of today.
Like most scrapbooks, The American Motorcycle Girls: 1900-1950 is a collection of archival materials documenting the accomplishments and endearing personalities of a family; the family, in this case, being women motorcyclists.

Broken down chronologically into six eras of development between 1900 and 1950, each section includes biographical portraits of women motorcyclists, most of whom you won’t recognize by name for their fame.

These biographical entries are pictorial and written accounts of not only events accomplished by women, but also the women themselves.

For example, an entry in the 1913-1919 section highlights Mrs. E.T. Latterman. Mrs. Latterman’s distinction? Always stopping to help a rider on the road if he is in trouble even if she can’t do anything other than “loan a wrench or a pair of pliers.” In the excerpt pulled from Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated (1918), Mrs. Latterman also takes the time to mention the details of her riding clothes, which include a boy’s knickerbocker suit, a man’s cap altered for high wind, and a smile. The entry is accompanied by an image of Mrs. Latterman atop her motorcycle, wearing the hat, the knickerbocker suit and the smile, ready to ride.


Other entries include Linda Dugeau and Dot Robinson, co-founders of the Motor Maids women’s motorcycle club (1937), Effie and Avis Hotchkiss, the first women to cross the United States by motorcycle (1915), and three whole pages on Olive Hager, the first and one of the most famous Wall of Death riders of all time.

The American Motorcycle Girls 1900-1950 inside

One thing that really strikes me about this book is its “all for one, one for all” attitude. Every entry is labeled and presented equally, whether the accomplishment is enjoying a strolling tour of California with a friend or setting a world record for the most miles traveled. There are no flamboyant bells and whistles distinguishing 10 miles from 10,000 miles or success stories from attempts. Pictures of Dot Robinson and Louise Scherbyn (founder of the Women’s International Motorcycle Association in 1950), are juxtaposed with anonymous images of women riders that have been found with no record of name or location.

As mentioned in the introduction, this book is all about illuminating and celebrating the “unsung heroines” who took the first steps to create a foundation for the road women riders cruise today. With help from enough publication archives, libraries and personal family collections to fill two pages of acknowledgments, Cristine Sommer Simmons accomplishes this task with flying colors.

An 11×12 hardbound beauty of 240 full-color pages, The American Motorcycle Girls: 1900-1950 is a great tribute to the foundation of women in motorcycling. For $50.00, I would recommend adding this scrapbook to any coffee table where serious riders rest their feet.

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