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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 didn't 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 Sally's 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 didn't 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 wasn't good enough for him so I went down again and got 92, when that didn't 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 didn't see you kick it over so I can't 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 she's 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 Department's 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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