The First Female Motorcyclist in D.C.

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Library of Congress

On September 11, 1937, the Washington Post reported that "D.C.'s Lone Girl Motorcyclist Stormed Loudly To Get Permit." The girl was Sally Robinson (married name: Halterman, as she is identified in photo archives) and after nearly a decade of operating motorcycles illegally, she decided it was time to get a permit. But even though the Post makes clear that there were no laws on the books to support discrimination on the basis of sex, the policeman administering the test still did not agree.

"First he said I was too little, then he said I was too young," Miss Robinson declaimed yesterday, malice towards all policemen shining in her eyes. She is 27 years old and 4 feet 11 inches tall, and didn't see what either factor had to do with her sitting behind the handlebars of a motorcycle.

After she passed the written examination twice—scoring an 80 and 92 respectively—and brought in a lawyer, Robinson was finally permitted to take the driving portion of the test. Well, theoretically:

The policeman announced that he would not ride with her in the sidecar of the machine he provided for the test—he said he was afraid to. But when the test was over, the examiner announced, "Lady, you handle it as well as a man could. Your balance is swell, and you know the machine, but I didn't see you kick it over so I can't give you the permit."

Robinson was incensed. "I called him such names—well, I was ashamed of myself," she said. "But it worked, and I have the permit." And with that, she became the first legal female motorcyclist in the Capitol. From there, she sought membership in the Capitolians, a newly-formed D.C. Motorcycle Club.

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