I love books and I've received many to review over the years, but the latest one I'm reviewing is the first book in years I'm really excited about, like over-the-moon excited. Why? Because it's an incredibly well done and professional presentation of a topic I'm 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 we've 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. She's 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 didn't 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 didn't have good maps and they didn't 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 "it's not a man's 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 collector's 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 $50 (the price is so worth it!), and can be ordered online at TheAmericanMotorcycleGirls.com
, or wherever fine books are sold.