Revving Engines, Breaking Glass

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Amelia Leonard
  • 439th Airlift Wing
Nearly 75 members of the local community, family, friends, military members and motorcycle enthusiasts came together to kick off a cross-country motorcycle journey in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Van Buren sisters ride from New York to California in 1916.

The sisters, Augusta “Gussie” and Adeline Van Buren, were pioneers in the Women’s Rights movement. On July 4, 1916 they set out from Sheepshead Bay racetrack in Brooklyn, New York to be the first females to ever successfully ride motorcycles from one end of the country to the other. Their mission was simple, to prove to the Army that women were just as capable as men. After proving their capabilities, they hoped to become military dispatch riders. Unfortunately, upon completion, the Army rejected their applications. However, their efforts still brought women one step closer to military service.

Four years later, women were granted the right to vote, a move that can be directly tied to the efforts of the Van Buren sisters and several other influential female activists during the period.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of their two-month long endeavor, 75 motorcyclists from all over the country will be following their same route from New York to California. They will also be picking up an additional 175 riders once they reach Colorado to finish out the journey. The trek will take a total of three weeks. According to planners, “This event is not just about motorcycling; it’s a celebration of brave and adventurous women, service to community and country, and the history of two-wheeled travel.”

At a reception for the riders at the Westover Club, Maj. Frances Dixon told the audience, “I would not be here today if it weren’t for the like of intrepid women and their audacious belief that not only could women serve, but they could serve as dispatch riders on the front lines,” Dixon, Operations Officer with the 439th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron said. “I stand here today on the shoulders of giants, of women who came before me and paved the way for me to serve as a line officer in the most powerful military the world has ever known. Women who have believed so strongly in their desire to serve their country and support and defend the Constitution of the United States, that they have endured incredible discrimination, challenges and hardships that many of us could not imagine,” she said.

Colonel Karen “Jack” Magnus, Mission Support Group commander of the 439th Airlift Wing also addressed the crowd. “They laid down the beginning of a dialogue to include women in the military,” she said. When she joined the Air Force in 1988, she was a young lieutenant, highly outnumbered by male officers. She did not even meet a female colonel in the Air Force until she made the rank of Major. “Once you start breaking glass, it’s a little easier to break over time.”

Several members of the Van Buren family attended the kick-off in support of the trip. They spoke of how strong their ancestors were, and how Augusta went on to become a pilot, flying with fellow female activist Amelia Earhart and the Ninety-Nines. When her son was old enough, she taught him how to fly, and he served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps.

For more information, or to follow their journey over the next three weeks, visit