Photo Credit: Jac Brown/ Woodman rode a Flanders motorcycle similar to this one.

“The west certainly surpassed all my expectations, and Iowa is great,” Cy Woodman claimed after traveling from New York to Iowa on a Flanders 4 motorcycle in October 1912.

Ethel “Cy” Woodman had ridden cross country to follow through on a dare. The
freelance journalist had been at the New York City Press Club one day when a fellow journalist dared her to ride a motorcycle from New York to San Francisco. The dare came after Woodman boasted that women were just as “gritty” as men.


Iowa History, a weekly column, appears at IowaWatch on Saturdays.

Cheryl MullenbachCheryl Mullenbach is the author of non-fiction books for young people. Her work has been recognized by International Literacy Association, American Library Association, National Council for Social Studies, and FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

Visit her website at:

In September she headed west through Pittsburgh and Chicago, crossing the Mississippi River at Clinton, Iowa.

“I hired one of those little boats and paddled all around, and took some pictures and just shouted. I wired back to my paper, ‘Hurrah, West at last, across the Mississippi,’” she said.

She said she had been treated “royally” everywhere except for one instance in Michigan. A stranger “slugged” her off her motorcycle. But Woodson, with the help of the sheriff, caught the fellow. Next day she sat in on his court appearance and witnessed the judge setting his fine at $50.

About 30 miles east of Des Moines Woodson had another mishap. And it set her back a couple of weeks. Flying down a steep hill on her motorcycle, Woodson hit a patch of sand at the bottom of the incline, causing her motorcycle to topple. She landed in a heap, badly battered.

A man on a motorcycle came upon her and helped her back on her machine. She rode for about seven miles to the nearest town, where a doctor bandaged her injured eye and wrapped her tender ribs with adhesive plaster.

With one eye covered by the patch and her ribs aching with each jolt, Woodson made her way westward. Just outside Des Moines, the motorcycle’s engine killed. She had to push the cycle for about a mile to an automobile company. The employees took her to a doctor, who suggested she take a break from her journey.

C.C. Clements from the automobile company suggested Woodson stay with his family
while she mended. She accepted the offer.

Once again, Woodson was impressed with her experiences in Iowa. As she and Clements made their way home on a street car, two girls gave up their seats so the injured cyclist could sit. “Not a man offered to give me his seat in the car, but two girls got up, and I tell you I appreciated the courtesy,” Woodson remarked. “Let me tell you what I think of your Des Moines women,” she said. “They are fine women as ever I met.”

On November 13, still not completely recovered, Woodson decided to resume her
journey to San Francisco. She was eager to complete the trek before Christmas, and it was getting cold.

But Woodson didn’t complete her tour on motorcycle. In New Mexico she suffered
another setback. After recovering from an appendectomy, she completed her journey by train. In California she spoke to a crowd at the Los Angeles Motorcycle Club. She summed up her experiences this way: “I now feel qualified to state that if a woman has a comb, toothbrush and a nail file, she can travel most anywhere in comfort—even on a motorcycle.”



“Accidents Do Not Deter This Woman,” Des Moines Register, Oct. 31, 1912.

“Girl Rides in Spite of Hurts,” Quad-City Times, Nov. 26, 1912.

“Hits Iowa and Cries ‘I’m in West at Last,’” Des Moines Tribune, Oct. 31, 1912.

“Miss “Cy” Woodman Resumes Journey,” Des Moines Register, Nov. 14, 1912.

“Re-Making History.” American Motorcyclist, Aug.1988, p 15.

Type of work:

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *