*Two* Women to Know: Adeline and Augusta Van Buren

Woman can, if she will. — Augusta Van Buren

Woman can, if she will. — Augusta Van Buren

(image via Wikimedia)

In 1916, World War I raged through Europe. In the US, women’s rights advocates fought for the right to vote. And in the midst of all this international turmoil, two sisters prepared for the ride of their lives.

Augusta (the older sister) and Adeline grew up battling their family’s high society expectations (they were descendants of former President Martin Van Buren). Even as their parents forced them to “come out” in New York society and twirl through debutant balls, Adeline and Augusta also frolicked in the outdoors, honing their camping, canoeing and (of course) motorcycling skills.

In 1916, the sisters announced their own contribution to the national conversation about women’s rights. Because people often argued that women couldn’t handle the physical rigor of combat, Augusta and Adeline decided to prove them wrong. They’d journey 5,500 miles by motorcycle, from Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn all the way to San Francisco. They set off in July and — after facing several hurdles along the way, including a dangerous summit up Pikes Peak, rough roads and rougher weather — reached San Francisco in September, to wild applause and acclaim from both feminists and sports aficionados.

The sisters’ ride didn’t convince the military to allow women riders, but they went down in history books. Augusta went on to fly planes, and Adeline became a lawyer.

In 2016, a group of women recreated the Van Buren sisters’ now-legendary motorcycle ride. “I absolutely believe in the empowering magic of two wheels,” one rider said.

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