On exhibition this summer in the DeGolyer Library’s Hillcrest Hall Send me a postcard! Women on the road across 19th-20th century America examines women motorists/automobilists and their travels across the country. The concept for this exhibit developed from a series of blog posts written over the course of a few summers. “That’s Where the West Begins…” featured the Elizabeth Dalrymple manuscript. Filled with humorous adventures, Elizabeth’s narrative describes her road trip from Pennsylvania to Colorado and back with her girlfriends Lillian, Aldine, Ethel in June 1940. The follow-up post “On the Road Again” featured the Margaret Burkhalder’s scrapbook, which contains a travel journal and diary, postcards, clippings, programs, and ephemera from a five-week trip from Buffalo, New York to the Midwest and Western United States and Canada with a group of nurses from Buffalo General Hospital, June 11 to July 14, 1936.
The open road stood as a symbol of freedom. It offered women means of exploration and an opportunity to become rugged adventurers. Automobiles started to appear at the same time women were striving for autonomy in the home and in politics. Women’s growing independence and the suffrage movement coincided with the rise of the motoring. To set out on the road required a sense of adventure and determination, an ability to cope with at times harsh conditions, and the know-how to troubleshoot repairs or problem-solve.
Highlights from the exhibit include: Harriet White Fisher’s (1865-1939) A woman’s world tour in a motor. Harriet White Fisher Andrew was an American known for being the first woman to circle the globe in a Locomobile. Alice Huyler Ramsey’s (1886-1983) Veil, duster and tire iron provides a description of an automobile trip from New York to San Francisco. Alice Huyler Ramsey was the first woman to drive an automobile across the United States from coast to coast, a feat she completed on August 7, 1909. Ramsey became the first woman inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame on October 17, 2000.
Newly acquired materials from the DeGolyer can also been seen in this exhibit. Elizabeth Albertha Taylor’s Western Wonderland [privately printed account of a western trip], 1903 recounts a western journey of a group of women beginning in Denver with sightseeing. The group then made their way to Manitou; Cheyenne Canyon for a “botany expedition”; Pike’s Peak; Garden of the Gods; and Glenwood Springs where they celebrated Fourth of July. They went on to stay at Yellowstone. Her account is an illustrated diary which includes many photographs of scenery and towns, as well as photos of the group and their activities.
Henrietta Heacock’s “Safety First on Your Trip to California” was created for Elisabeth by Henrietta, as a present for a girl’s trip by train to California. The entire book was compiled from different periodicals’ humorous clippings, cartoons, and illustrations, combined to form chapters. Some of the chapter headings: “The Way to Travel,” “The Gateway to the West,” “Are You an Optimist.” The album allowed Elisabeth (and future owners) to enjoy contemporary “railroad humor” while passing the time. It is a valuable reflection of railroad culture in American life.
Contact Samantha Dodd, curator of the Archives of Women of the Southwest for additional information or assistance with accessing these materials. “Send me a Postcard! Women on the road across 19th-20th century America” will be on display in the Hillcrest exhibit hall through August 2022. View additional materials in the companion digital exhibit. The DeGolyer continues to expand our digitization efforts, adding new content weekly.