REVIEW: The American Motorcycle Girls 1900-1950

Why you need to own this book!

By Genevieve Schmitt, Editor

I love books and Ive received many to review over the years, but the latest one Im reviewing is the first book in years Im really excited about, like over-the-moon excited. Why? Because its an incredibly well done and professional presentation of a topic Im passionate about (and I think you are, too) women riders and not just any women riders, but the ones who paved the way for the first 50 years of the 1900s.

The cover of the book.

This is not just another book about the old days with the same vintage photos and names weve become accustomed to seeing in museums of pioneers like Dot Robinson and Bessie Stringfield - with all due respect to those legendary female riders. "The American Motorcycle Girls 1900- 1950: A Photographic History of Early Women Motorcyclists" is a large 240-page coffee table book loaded with nearly 400 incredible reproductions of vintage photographs of just about every woman who rode a motorcycle during the first 50 years of the twentieth century. Author Cristine Sommer Simmons spent two years scouring museums and personal collections for the most comprehensive book on the subject of women riders in the early days. Shes also been collecting photos herself for 30 years.

Ever heard of Nellie Jo Gill or Easter Walters? These and the stories of hundreds of other women, most of who are not showcased in a motorcycle museum, are chronicled with photos in this beautiful and informative book. I say beautiful because these women are pure beauty to me because of the challenges they faced and overcame despite what society thought about them back then. I marvel at the clear and close-up images of these pioneers who rode when riding was tough. Thing is, they didnt know it was tough. All they knew were dirt roads with potholes, and motorcycles that were not as technologically sound as they are today. They didnt have good maps and they didnt have the high-tech gear and riding apparel we have today. But these women fell in love with the feeling motorcycling gave them despite societal limitations of the day.

The book includes the story of Easter Walters, an early actress and motorcycle enthusiast. Here Easter rides an early 1920s Harley-Davidson with a sidecar.

Cris also tells the story of these pioneers through old magazine and newspaper clippings she dug up – and it seems history is repeating itself. Just as we often see newspaper articles today on the topic of "more women are taking to the front seat of a motorcycle," and "its not a mans sport anymore," that same subject was making headlines 100 years ago. In an article in the New York Times dated January 15, 1911, a headline read "Motor Cycling Fad Strikes Fair Sex." And many early motorcycle magazines featured women riders on their covers. I think there were more women on motorcycle magazine covers back then than we see today quite frankly.

Cristine found old motorcycle magazines, like this one, showing pioneer women riders. Pictured is Agnes Goudy on her Excelsior motorcycle in 1918.

The book is divided into six sections covering each of the decades with easy to read text and captions accompanying the photos. Some of the women included in the book Cris knows personally; and some she interviewed especially for this book. The American Motorcycle Girls is a book that will never see a shelf in my house. I plan to keep it displayed prominently for my houseguests to browse through. The top quality paper, printing and binding make this a keepsake. Now, if I can just get Cris to come my house to sign the book – it might even become a collectors item.

These women riders are attending the Hohokus, New Jersey, race in the early 1930s.

Author Cristine Sommer Simmons is a pioneer herself having co-founded Harley Women magazine back in 1985. It was the predecessor to Woman Rider magazine. Cris is inducted into three different motorcycle halls of fame around the country for her efforts promoting women and motorcycling. Photo is courtesy of Michael Lichter.

The American Motorcycle Girls is published by Parker House Publishing and costs $60 (the price is so worth it!), and can be ordered online at Cris' web site, where you can get an autographed copy.

10 thoughts on REVIEW: The American Motorcycle Girls 1900-1950

  1. I love this book! I bought it in Keystone, Colorado, at the women’s ride-in. Totally awesome. Later, on a different ride, I bought your latest one which is also wonderful. I have loved you since getting my first Harley Woman magazine, when I first started riding. I was so happy to read about other women riding motorcycles. Then I there was that special on the Discovery Channel about you and other women riding together to Sturgis. I was hooked. Thank you so much!

  2. I bought the book “American Motorcycle Girls” after I read this article. It’s well-written and the photos are priceless. We are going back to a day when bikes were at their infancy and women dared to ride by themselves without a man. I was impressed with their courage, as these they took their motorcycles on cross country trips, particularly when there weren’t interstate highways. These women were resilient. And the bikes they rode were a lot stiffer and uncomfortable then the ones we ride today. This book is a celebration of motorcycle riding by women. Run out and by it.

  3. Another great article! I have spent more than 30 years promoting the enjoyment of riding my own motorcycle.Keep up all the good work you ladies do.

  4. Went down to Barnes & Noble the day after this article posted. I had to order it. There was a promotional discount on the book as well as my membership discount along with free shipping! Just wanted to share the information for those who need to save a few dollars and those like me who won't be able to go to the conference.

  5. When I first heard about the book, I had to have it. I am taking my time going through it so I can enjoy each page and moment. I was not aware that way before women today there were so many woman riding motorcycles and that is what makes the book so much more interesting.

  6. Awesome book and wonderful article! Go Motorcycle Girls!

  7. I read this book the moment I bought it from the store. In about two to three days I finished the whole book. It was amazing to see the changes that happened to women riding. In each page turn I could see time flash before my eyes. Cris is an amazing writer not because she has the knowledge of a library of woman riding in her head, but that she too is just like all of these women who have chosen to ride. She loves the knowledge that she book presents, but what it really presents is an opportunity — an opportunity for women to join in and have fun! We can look at the historical accounts of these women, but what is really important is that women continue to break down social barriers well into the 21st century.

  8. I attended Ms. Simmons' seminar at the AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days at Mid-Ohio. My boyfriend attended with me and he found her editorials very amusing and he gained a new appreciation for women on motorcycles. This book would be a fabulous conversation starter and especially useful when one talks about this “men's sport.”

  9. Like you, I am interested in and passionate about women riders. I am definitely going to order this book. Thanks for your input.

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