PIONEERS: The First Woman to Get a Motorcycle License

Why did it take so long?

By Panhead Jim

Pioneers the First Woman to get a motorcycle license Sally Robinson
Sally Robinson in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

In the year 1900, Anne French became the first woman to be issued a license to drive an automobile in Washington D.C. Oddly enough, Washington D.C.s progressive stance on women driving cars did not include motorcycles. It took another 37 years before the first women was issued a motorcycle license.

Sally Robinson—otherwise known as Sally Halterman—received that license in September of 1937, but not without a fight from local authorities. Although small in stature, only 4 feet 11 inches tall, she didnt back down and was granted a license. Below is an article from the Washington Post that contains her first-hand account of the events leading up to her to receiving her motorcycle license.

Pinoeers the first woman to get a motocycle license newspaper article
Washington Post article about Sallys accomplishment.

Reprinted from the The Washington Post, September 11, 1937

D.C.s Lone Girl Motorcyclist Stormed Loudly to Get Permit

“Sally Robinson – She Weighs Only 88 Pounds – Had to Buffalo Stalwart Policeman but Finally Won His Praise – and License.

By dint of stamping her foot Sally Robinson, of 2120 H Street Northwest, has become the only girl in Washington licensed to ride a motorcycle.

Miss Robinson—all 88 pounds of her—has been operating motorcycles on and off since 1928, but last spring she decided she wanted a permit. The policeman assigned to officiate at her examination had different ideas, however. Although the District has no law against women motorcyclists, this examiner apparently thought it should have.

“First he said I was too little, then he said I was too young,” Miss Robinson declaimed yesterday, malice toward all policeman shining in her eyes.” She is 27, years old and 4 feet 11 inches tall, and didnt see what either factor had to do with her sitting behind the handlebars of a motorcycle.

“I passed the written examination all right—passed it twice, in fact. The first time I got 80 on it, but that wasnt good enough for him so I went down again and got 92, when that didnt satisfy him, I got my lawyer.

“Well, that cop looked from me to the lawyer, and from the lawyer to me, and then he said I could take my road test,” she continued. Her difficulties had not ended, however. Thinking all was well, she said goodbye to her lawyer and started out for the road test.

Then the policeman announced he would not ride with her in the sidecar of the machine he provided for the test —he said he was afraid to.

But when the test was over, the examiner announced, “Lady, you handle it as well as a man could. Your balance is swell and you know the machine. But I didnt see you kick it over so I cant give you the permit.”

That was when Miss Robinson started “cussing him out.”

“I called him such names – well, I was ashamed of myself. But it worked, and I have the permit.”

Miss Robinson uses the smallest type of machine built, but at that it weighs 325 pounds, nearly four times as much as she does. Despite the fact, it occasionally falls on her, she insists she would rather ride that machine than eat when shes hungry. As for automobiles, she has no use for them whatsoever.

At present her chief goal is membership in the Capitolians, a newly formed motorcycle club of which Lynn Cook, 1515 U Street Northwest is president. She will be on the only girl in the club, which does not share the Police Departments prejudice against the sex.”

Pioneers the First Woman to Get a Motorcycle License vintage bike
Sally Robinson–licensed motorcycle rider—a first for women!

About the Author
Panhead Jim is a freelance writer and vintage motorcycle enthusiast. He purchased his first vintage Harley-Davidson, a 1964 Duo-Glide, in 2010 and has been riding and writing about it ever since. He maintains his own website,Riding Vintage, which features an extensive collection of self-written articles on the subject of antique motorcycles. Panhead Jim has also written articles for various print magazines including American Iron, Road Bike (now Motorcycle) and Kustom Magazine. His newest project is the restoration of a 1933 Harley-Davidson VL, which he plans to ride cross country in the fall of 2014.

Pioneers The Female Dispatch Riders of World War II Panhead Jim

Pioneers The Female Dispatch Riders of World War II riding vintage logo

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8 thoughts on PIONEERS: The First Woman to Get a Motorcycle License

  1. Great article! I didn’t know it took so long before women could ride motorcycle in US.

    1. Well, they could rid a motorcycle, they just weren’t formally issued a license to do so until then.

  2. I love articles like this! My grandmother learned to drive a car so that she could drive back to Idaho when my grandfather bought a salvage military bike in the 40s. Then she learned to ride the bike and got a ticket for riding it! I knew Grandad rode but I never knew she did until I read her journals!

  3. I absolutely loved reading this. Thank you Jim for sharing this vintage article. Sometimes we forget how difficult it was for the women pioneers in the sport. Love her grit and grace!

  4. It would be interesting to find out when each state started a requirement to be licensed. I remember Dad being pretty ticked off when the state of Oregon told him he had to have a license. He was a professional rider, races and hill climbs. We traveled a lot as a kid.That was in the 1960s, but I do not know if it was a new requirement at the time or if Dad got caught without a license on the old Chief, or maybe it was the Scout. Regardless, he never got the endorsement because it made him so angry! Still rode. Must be where I get my rebel call from.

  5. I never knew this until I stumbled upon the article. Sally was a tenacious spitfire who held her ground. I’d like to think I’m a bit like her: I’m 5′ feet 3 inches and I don’t like to be told I can’t do something, and I love riding motorcycles!I entered the demolition derby at our county fair in 1989. No woman had tried it before and the men did their best to intimidate me. I was nervous but I didn’t let it show. At the wave of the flag, I barreled across the track and slammed into the first car I could come into contact with. They all tried to take me out; one guy in particular chased me up and down the track. The more fun I had, the madder he got! I ended up taking first in my heat, and I won the respect of all the men! From then on, they tried to avoid being in my heats. When I asked why, a guy answered, “I’m afeared of you because you hit too hard!” Hats off to you, Sally Robinson!

  6. Such a great article and stunning lady to represent the motorcycle world in general. Thanks for sharing her story. Loved reading every bit of her chutzpah!

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