Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Avis and Effie Hotchkiss: Motorcycle Mama

By Anna Kathryn Lanier

Effie Hotchkiss was not your average Victorian era girl—she had dreams, big dreams and though she didn’t intend it, her dreams landed her on the front page of newspapers across America and her name was etched into history books.  The year was 1915 and Effie was already bored with her bank clerking job on Wall Street in New York City.  She wanted to do something exciting and adventurous.  She wanted to see America. And she wanted to do them both at the same time.

Although the one millionth Ford Model T had just rolled off the assembly line, or perhaps in spite of it, Effie didn’t want to see the USA in a Chev….er, Ford.  She wanted to cross the country, from sea to shining sea, on a motorcycle.

In the early part of the 20th century, much of the U.S. especially in the West, was still wild frontier, full of bandits and Indians, not to mention wildlife. In addition, what roads existed were narrow, potholed, and mostly dirt. These hazards did not deter Effie.  Using a small inheritance, she purchased a V-Twin Harley-Davidson and planned out her trip. Her mother, Avis, however was not as enthused as Effie about a woman taking such a trip alone. Instead of preventing her daughter from going, Avis insisted on tagging along.

A sidecar was rigged to the bike and the mother-daughter duo left Brooklyn, NY on May 2, 1915 to attend the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.  They spent the next two months traveling 5,000 miles through every type of terrain and weather imaginable.  At one time, the temperature ranged from freezing to over 120° in a matter of days.

Effie not only did the driving, she was the mechanic, too, since she had to repair the cycle in remote places.  When the duo ran out of inner tubes for the tires, they improvised by taking a blanket, cutting it up, tightly rolling it and stuffing it into the tire. It got them to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where they were able to purchase new tubes.

The September 1915 issue of Harley-Davidson Dealer’s Magazine wrote that the women faced “bad roads, heat, cold, rain, floods and other such things with a shrug of their shoulders.”

Once on the west coast Effie dipped her toes and tires in the Pacific Ocean.  She also ran down her future husband on a San Francisco street when he stepped out in front of her moving motorcycle.

Barely taking time to catch their breaths, Effie and Avis headed back to Brooklyn, arriving in October 1915.  They’d racked up 9,000 miles round trip and cruised through Reno, Salt Lake City, Omaha, Chicago, Milwaukee and dozens of other cities.

Whether intended or not, Effie and Avis did make the news and were celebrities by the time they returned home. They were also the first women to not only make a cross-country trip on a motorcycle, but the first to make it round trip. Effie remarked, “I just wanted to see America and considered that the three-speed Harley-Davidson for myself and sidecar for mother and luggage was the best suited for the job.”


LADIES FIRST: History’s Greatest Female Trailblazers, Winners and Mavericks by Lynn Santa Lucia

Anna Kathryn Lanier 
Never let your memories be greater than your dreams. ~Doug Ivester 


  1. Anna Kathryn, what a neat story! I love the photos, too. I can't imagine doing that now, much less a hundred years ago. Effie was definitely adventurous, and her mom must have been, also. Thanks for this story.

  2. Oh, I loved this!!! Great blog. What a great gal she was...and her mom, too. Two strong, adventurous ladies.

  3. How awesome! I never heard of her, thank you for telling her story!

  4. I absolutely love this story. I can relate since DH and I love taking trips on our motorcycle. And believe me, we're no longer spring chickens, but I can relate to their adventures. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I love this lady's spirit! And her sister as well. right on!

    I was told my grandmother (in the 1920s) once road on the back of a motorcycle, and nine months later my daddy got born. !

  6. What a terrific post, and what an amazing pair of women. What a thrill this must have been. I am so glad to meet them here today!

  7. What a delightful story. I cannot imagine how they did this in that year and in that vehicle. I hope they had more protective clothing than what they wear in the photo. That an accomplishment even today, but then...the roads, and facilities, and gas stations...they must have had to do a lot of planning.
    Thanks for this unique story--loved it.

  8. Hi, everyone! I'm so glad ya'll enjoy this story. When I first read Avis and Effie's story, I loved it. I wish I could find out something about Effie after her cross-country trip. I hope she continued to be adventurous.

  9. This was fantastic..loved the post. I am a scardy cat and won't even ride a motorcycle, but you have to take your hat off to these two women. They rock.

  10. What a great story! It's amazing how adventurous these women were.

    I rode on the back of my husband's Harley before we were married, but don't think I'd want to go it alone. What brave ladies!

  11. What a great story. Thank you. I love women who are not afraid to dare new things.

  12. Great story about a couple of adventure seeking women!

  13. Great story! If you're interested in some of the first lady riders, you need to pick up this beautiful coffee table book, American Motorcycle Girls

    There are so many awesome pictures, you'll want to leave it out on your coffee table.


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