A commemorative cross-country trip that is bringing attention to two early pioneers of the women’s rights movement is starting out from western Massachusetts.
More than 50 people will leave Springfield Wednesday morning on motorcycles for a trip to San Francisco to recall the journey made by two sisters from Brooklyn, NY 100 years ago this summer. In 1916, Adeline and Augusta Van Buren became the first women to cross the continental United States solo on motorcycles.
Several descendants of the Van Buren sisters are participating in the centennial observance cross country ride. Sarah Van Buren of Hudson, NY, a great-great niece of Adeline and Augusta, learned to ride a motorcycle just last November so she could take part.
"Ten years ago, my parents retraced Augusta and Adeline's journey. It was just them,but I thought on the centennial maybe I'll do it too. So, here we are and we're doing it," said Van Buren.
The Van Buren sisters, who were active in the national preparedness movement that preceded the U.S. entering World War I, traveled 5,500 miles over dirt roads, through heavy rains at times, across deserts and the Rocky Mountains in an effort to show there could be a place for women as dispatch riders, freeing up men for front-line duty.
Van Buren said the historical context of what her great-great aunts did is still relevant.
"Women and others don't have rights around the world. Rides like this bring attention to those issues and that is really important, " said Van Buren.
Before beginning the commemorative trip, the participants Tuesday visited the Museum of Springfield History and toured its famous collection of Indian motorcycles. The Van Buren sisters rode Indian Powerplus model motorcycles built in Springfield. The Van Burens visited the factory before they went on their trip to get advice on repairing the motorcycles in the event of a breakdown.
The museum opened a special new exhibit on the Van Buren sisters that contains photographs, memorabilia, and news articles about the trip. Museum director Guy McLain said many newspapers criticized the sisters for leaving their roles as housewives, but the national attention helped bolster the Women’s Suffrage movement.
" It was controversial, but they showed that women were capable of quite significant things," said McLain.
Dan Ruderman of Great Barrington, MA, who is a grandson of Adeline Van Buren, said what the sisters did made a lasting difference to the world.
"What is important to me about this ride is that by the time we get to San Francisco there will be 250 people, largely women, and women are discovering a community of other women that are doing interesting things," said Ruderman.
The “Sisters’ Centennial Motorcycle Ride” is also raising money for two charities: Final Salute Inc, which helps homeless women military veterans, and Women’s Coalition of Motorcyclists, which promotes motorcycle recreation and safety.
The riders received congratulations and a proclamation from Mayor Domenic Sarno.