By Rou Weng
Entirely East Lansing staff writer
Bill Murphy, a biker with nearly 40 years riding experience, gave a presentation about his new book “Grace and Grit: Motorcycle Dispatches from the Early Twentieth Century Women Adventurers” at East Lansing Public Library on Monday, March. 19.
Murphy now lives in East Lansing, and it was his third presentation at East Lansing Public Library. The presentation was part of the library’s women’s history month events.
Murphy underlined the context at first, and said it was a time horses and cars shared the road equally. “No public money was spent on roads until the 1920s,” he explained. “New York to Chicago was more than a trip, also an adventure at that time.”
“For women, they had to contend not only with many unpaved roads, but also with social ethics,” said Murphy.
Murphy told about two pairs of women adventurers. In 1915, Effie N. Hotchkiss and her mother, Avis, became the first women to ride motorcycles across the country. They rode from New York City to San Francisco. “They had major accidents, got lost quite often, and were stuck in the mud,” said Murphy. He showed several pictures of the trip. “There is no word to describe how miserable their situations were,” said Murphy.
The second pair were sisters Adeline and Augusta Van Buren, who completed a round trip between New York City and San Francisco in their 20s in 1916.
“They were both active in backing civil rights movement for women, and very patriotic,” said Murphy. “They wanted to prove that women could play a role in military affairs by the trip.”
Motorcycles were used during World War I, which gave them a public exposure.
“I’ve heard about the stories often and often over the years, and the more that I learned, I feel that the women really deserve to have their stories preserved,” said Murphy after the speech.
It took two years for Murphy to write the book, and he did a lot of cross-country research. He went to libraries, museums and talked to different families all across the country. “I interviewed several families and get their permissions to use the pictures,” said Murphy.
“It involves those pictures, and the talks about the details make you feel like you’re right there,” said Charles A. Birney, 3260 Old Farm Road, Flint.
“The presentation was really enjoyable, and I’m going to buy the book,” said Jean Lepard, a friend of Murphy.
Murphy signed several books after the talk, and donated the money to the library.