Americans Discover Vacation: Women on the Loose

The 19th century was not a great time to be a woman in America. Large portions of our nation fell under the influence of the Protestant ethic, a philosophy that valued women primarily for their ability to birth and raise children. Combine that with the stifling mores of Victorianism and you have what historians have dubbed the Cult of Domesticity.

Family SecretThis of course was still a time when women couldn’t even vote, no matter how many useless dolts the men of America elected. But for at least some women discovering vacation freed them from this trap even if only temporarily.

Working at Play author Cindy S. Aron says vacations define “what people choose to do rather than what they are required to do.” By that definition who needed a vacation more than the Victorian era American woman. Aron writes, “Summer resorts encouraged more relaxed rules of conduct. Women found and helped create a resort culture freed from some traditional middle-class constraints. “

Cape May street

Cape May

This was apparent at the earliest American resorts, places like Saratoga Springs and Cape May. Women fished, bowled and played billiards. They swam in the same ocean the men swam in. At these more fashionable and affluent resorts flirting and courting were commonplace. Raised in a culture that expected them to be in the house some women found places where they could instead see and be seen. By the late 19th century women outnumbered men at the popular high end resorts. Some city-dwelling wives and their children would spend part of the summer in places like the mountains in New York State or the beaches of Long Island and their husbands would commute there on weekends.

As vacationing spread to a broader segment of society, women were among the participants in different types of vacations, among them camping. They climbed and fished side-by-side with men and accompanied hunting parties. Early in the 20th century, they joined in “tramping” trips, camping and traveling on foot carrying gear on their back.

Improved transportation options and an expansion of tourist accommodation, particularly in the West, sped the development of tourism in the early decades of the 20th century. See America First author Marguerite S. Shaffer notes, “The landscape of tourism offered women a venue outside of the domestic sphere in which they could re-imagine themselves as independent, self-sufficient active members of society.”

John F. Sears, author of Sacred Places, adds, “Tourism, unlike hunting or plowing, tending a flower garden or caring for children, was never gender identified. Both men and women participated in it, often together.”

The story of the growth of vacationing in America has largely been put together through the diaries, memoirs and narratives of early travelers. Authors of these recorded experiences include many women who could be considered pioneers of the American vacation experience.

Margaret Cruikshank, a 58-year old teacher from Minneapolis, was one of the early visitors to the new Yellowstone National Park in 1883. She went by train to Montana and then took a coach to the hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs. Her travel around the park was by carriage or horseback. She wrote a story about her trip titled “Earth Could Not Furnish Another Such Sight” that was later published in Montana: The Magazine of Western History.  Cruikshank describes accommodations in the park as “ludicrously insufficient.”  “Wherever you go there are streams to ford, corduroy to fall over, sagebrush plains to crawl along and mountains to cross,” but also “every stop reveals new wonders.” Cruikshank suggested that “the strong can stand it and enjoy it. But this is no place for the delicate.”  She concluded “All who have made the tour of the park are expected to return half-dead, spent and powerless.”

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs

Alice Huyler Ramsey was a 22-year old housewife from Hackensack, N.J. In 1909 when she set off on her gender’s first transcontinental auto voyage. She left from New York with three other women in a Maxwell touring car and arrived in San Francisco 59 days later. During the trip she changed 11 tires, cleaned the spark plugs, and repaired a broken brake pedal. During her journey she caught bedbugs in a hotel in Wyoming, was surrounded by a Native American hunting party with bows drawn in Nevada and slept in the car when it got stuck in the mud. But she survived and in later years drove across country more than 30 times. In the year 2000 she became the first woman inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.  In an interview with Ms. Magazine in 1975 she stated the obvious: “Good driving has nothing to do with sex.”

In 1923 Katherine Hulme set forth on a cross country trip with a female companion referred to as Tuny in her later published account of the journey. Shaffer comments that “in many respects their decision to make a transcontinental tour represented a declaration of independence.” The two logged 6,000 miles motoring from New York through Minneapolis, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, British Columbia, Idaho, Washington and Oregon before ending up in San Francisco. While many men gave their cars women’s names, Hulme christened her’s “Reggie.” There is a story in the book about a garage attendant who warned the two not to try to cross the Big Horn Mountains at that time of year. Hulme blew him a kiss and Tuny drove on.

(See also American Discover Vacation: Overcoming Our Heritage)

This entry was posted in Americans Discover Vacation, History, Travel and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Americans Discover Vacation: Women on the Loose

  1. andleeb says:

    WOW! Such amazing women who broke the rules and tried to enjoy life in those days when they were not supposed to do that.
    It is nice to know about these few stories about women of past and the things they overcame in their journey.
    I feel that name of vacation still fascinates all of us and brings joy to every face. All the pictures are amazing and I really love the story of few women who went on vacation and enjoyed their trips.
    Thank you for sharing.


  2. Donna Janke says:

    Interesting post about women and travel history. I can imagine the welcome freedom of relaxed rules on vacation. Your specific examples showcase strong women. I would have liked to meet them.


  3. These are my kind of women: trail blazers. Love your title about these experiences too! Not totally surprised that more women than men found their way to high end resorts. And good for them for doing that too. Truly trailblazers. Interesting read Ken.


  4. jacquiegum says:

    Gotta love these gals! Such courage, and I can’t help but love and admire the “attitude”. I think us today women owe them more than we ever knew! These are SO interesting Ken!


  5. Reblogged this on galesmind and commented:
    You go girls!! Loved the article.


  6. That is really interesting history on women and vacationing. I had never really given it much thought before. No wonder the women were so willing to go off on adventurous vacations, it allowed them to escape the chains of domestic life if only for a moment. Woohoo, I’d have been one of them!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ken- Thank you for sharing this insight and history about such amazing, strong and fun women. These are true women pioneers that did what we take for granted today because of their courage and willingness to try new things. I am ready to take a road trip!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Suzanne Fluhr says:

    Interesting topic. The concept of “vacation” in the United States is something I most associate with the Labor Movement. I never stopped to think of how different a woman’s life might be “on vacation” in the 19th and early 20th centuries. However, it was labor unions who built many of the Catskills and other resorts within a day’s drive of New York City. My father worked as a waiter in the dining rooms of several during his summer breaks from college in the 1940’s. Since they provided room and board, it was indeed a freeing vacation for the women. My parents actually met at one of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Beth Niebuhr says:

    I love your history lesson and particularly the stories of those 3 adventurous women. My only transcontinental trip with women was when I flew the Powderpuff Derby. All women. Sacramento to Wilmington, Delaware. Very fun but not dangerous and not relaxing…it was a race!


  10. Amazing! what great women! thanks for sharing Ken!!


  11. Ken, I have always enjoyed reading about women pioneers and this post just added to my store of knowledge. I never thought that vacation time was really the only chance these women had to express their own interests. What courage these women showed by following their dream.


  12. Equality between men and women in the US is an interesting topic. On one hand the Christian right has a negative inflluence but how litigation is used in your country makes it much easier to for women to sue when they are discriminated against than in Europe. Women travelling is a nice aspect but the main focus should be that women should be paid as much as men doing the same job. Not least since women are generally on a world wide scale better educated.


  13. Meredith says:

    I loved this post! And I can really relate to those women needing a break from their domestic bliss. I love reading the excerpts from those women’s memoirs. I guess they were like early bloggers of their time… 🙂


  14. Diane Atwood says:

    I enjoyed reading your post — it takes me back to a personal adventure. The year I turned 30 (in the late 70s), I traveled solo for several months throughout Italy, Greece and Israel carrying only a small backpack. The trip was a defining moment, especially in terms of believing in myself and my abilities. Wish I could turn back the clock, only now I’d opt for a nice hotel room, instead of a hostel or a sleeping bag in the desert!


  15. I enjoy reading anything about history, Your blog was very informative.
    It is funny you mentioned Cape May, and Saratoga Springs. I was in the Coast Guard in one, and now live the other.


  16. Tim says:

    Another great story Ken. This time with a very adventurous slant. I sat there reading this story and couldn’t help get captivated by the drama of traveling across the country back in 1909. What a trip that must have been.


  17. My vacation style is go go go and GO some more. Most of my family and friends joke that I don’t know how to relax when I go places, but I get enough down time in everyday life so when I am adventuring, I am really seeing and doing as much as possible, and then falling into a pleasant coma at the end of each day. I would love to be able to go back and time and see Yellowstone the way the first tourists experienced it. To think how many times I’ve driven past Mammoth Hot Springs and called Yellowstone home for three wonderful summers 🙂


  18. Women on the loose indeed Ken. Very interesting post. The evolution of the perception of women comes in many forms and I was not aware it also came in along the lines of vacationing. Well John Sears said it well, some things are not gender identified.


  19. Great post! These are my type of ladies adventurous and ready to take on whatever comes their way. Once again great information about vacations in the early years. I love history, thank you for sharing.


  20. Erica says:

    Wow, these women were quite brave. It is fun to hear about women who did amazing things despite the “limits of their gender”. This also makes me realize how cushy we have it in many ways. I cannot imagine getting a flat tire and doing anything other than calling AAA. Getting in the car for adventure meant something much different in the early days than it does today with all our modern conveniences.


  21. JennyLeungX says:

    What awesome, transgressive women. Some of the holidays they went on are like adventures. Haha, I couldn’t imagine holidaying in the Victorian era.


  22. Lorraine Marie Reguly says:

    Some women are truly courageous, aren’t they?

    I’m glad I wasn’t born 100 years ago, however. I like the conveniences of modern society.


  23. Jason @ says:

    Those women were pretty cool. Alice Ramsey gets my ultimate respect for driving coast to coast over 30 times.


  24. Pingback: Americans Discover Vacation: Finding the Time | off the leash

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  27. This is a great dip into tourism history as well as…maybe…when we women started to assert for equal rights in our good old USA. Enjoyed it and happy to share on Facebook.


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