Tuesday, July 28, 2009

There are no pre-defined gender roles for these leather-clad women on wheels.  Not for these Motor Maids.

America’s first all-women motorcycling club, Motor Maids Inc., was chartered in 1940 by pioneering female motorcyclists Linda Dugeau and Dot Robinson. Hundreds of the Maids will be in Lewiston in the coming week for the club's annual national convention.

This sisterhood on wheels is 1,200 members strong, which New England District Director Yolie Donley said she feels "incredibly empowering."

“It’s a sisterhood with loyalty, camaraderie, honor and a lot of respect.” A Motor Maid for nine years, Donley is credited by many in the New England District for getting them involved in the club.

“She had been after me for a few years to join,” says Kerrie Sullivan of Raymond.  “I ride a lot in other women’s motorcycle organizations and that’s why I kept saying 'no' to her, but Motor Maids is just fantastic. It’s different from any other group.”

The members of the club range from “Red Ribbons,” the newest members, to “Golden Life Members,” women who have been a part of the Motor Maids for 50 or more years, with attendance at 10 or more conventions.

“I am in awe of these women,” said seven-year member Melanie Jandreau. “You just can’t talk to these (Golden Life) ladies enough. The stories they have are just amazing and the rich history behind the group makes you feel like you’re part of something really important.”

Stories about driving across state lines in the early half of the century, out-maneuvering hazards on unpaved roads with only a suicide shift, and wrapping themselves in heavy newsprint to block the rain are just some of the amazing feats that the older riders share with younger generations.

“You meet these women and they are in their 70s, 80s and 90s still riding,” said Charlotte Wilson, co-district director of New England, “and to listen to the stories and see the historical photographs, it just gives me chills to be a part of it.”

On July 7-9, the Motor Maids come to Lewiston for their annual national convention, roaring on two wheels into town by the hundreds.

Last year’s convention, held in Columbus, Ind., was the biggest in the group’s history, with 256 Maids and their guests. The 2009 Lewiston convention, to be held at the Ramada Inn, is expected to be just as large, with 250 already registered and walk-ins expected.

Held at a different location each year, the national convention brings Motor Maids from all over North America together to discuss club business, have some fun and reconnect with friends. The club, which spans the continental USA and Canada, is divided into different regional districts, each with an appointed district director for point of contact. Maine is part of the New England district along with New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts.

“We put a convention on the East Coast, then one on the West Coast, then one in the center of the USA,” explains Vice President Glennadine Gouldman. Every three years the group meets in the central U.S. for the election of officers, giving everyone the opportunity to attend a convention whether they live in California, Ontario or Maine.

Several members make the trek to convention as often as possible, no matter the distance. And these women ride. This isn’t a dainty jaunt for a cup of coffee – they really ride, regularly driving across the country and into Canada or Mexico.

One group coming in from Montana is completing the Four Corners Motorcycle Tour of the United States on their way to convention, touching San Ysidro, Calif., Blaine, Wash., Key West, Fla., and Madawaska before arriving in Lewiston.

Although women motorcyclists found themselves bombarded with prejudice in the earlier years of the sport, current female riders report an overall acceptance from their male counterparts. According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, female riders are on a steady rise, increasing from 9.6 percent in 2003 up to 12.3 percent in 2008. Out of the 25 million Americans who reportedly rode a motorcycle in 2008, 5.7 million, or 23 percent, were female.

Sullivan feels that Motor Maids have helped to prove that women deserve, and have the right, to be on motorcycles. “I used to get snide remarks from men, but it just made me want to ride even more. Belonging to an organization like this gives you security and encouragement, “she says.

The Motor Maids continue to be ambassadors for women in the world of motorcycling. Hanging up their leathers intermittently, they’ll don the signature regalia of royal blue, white vest and white gloves while on parade in Lewiston- Auburn. Look for them on the open road next week in Maine.

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