Iron Horse Cowgirls

Louise Scherbyn and the Women Motorcyclists of the 1930s and 1940s


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About the Book

Before Louise Scherbyn founded the Women’s International Motorcycle Association, she was simply a working girl who loved motorcycling—at a time when women weren’t allowed to wear pants, roads weren’t hard-topped, and handlebars could come apart while riding. The hardest part? Auxiliaries she looked to for support each proved to be the wrong fit—some uncomfortably, disastrously so. All Louise wanted was for women riders to have a proper space of their own. For that she would ultimately have to forge a new path.
This book tells the fascinating story of Scherbyn’s journey in forming the first stand-alone women-only motorcycle association. Chapters cover 225,000 miles and two decades’ worth of community-building, hostilities, physical and professional attacks, recovery, sisterhood and more. Scherbyn paved the way for women motorcyclists across the world while facing a storm of threats and uncertainties, driving ahead with newfound friends and her singular, unifying vision for women who ride.

About the Author(s)

The late Linda Back McKay was a poet, writer, coach, and teaching artist. Her work appeared in literary publications such as Great River Review, Water~Stone Review, and White Pelican Review. She taught at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.
Kate St. Vincent Vogl’s essays appear in best-selling anthologies such as Why We Ride and Listen to Your Mother, and her fiction has received support from the Minnesota State Arts Board and from the Anderson Center. She teaches at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.

Bibliographic Details

Linda Back McKay and Kate St. Vincent Vogl
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 322
Bibliographic Info: 257 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2023
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6946-5
eISBN: 978-1-4766-5115-6
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Author’s Note: Riding (and Writing) Through Fear—Linda Back McKay 1
Preface and Acknowledgments—Kate St. Vincent Vogl 3
Part I: Zero to Sixty 7
1. The Call to Ride 8
2. Driving Through Applesauce: 1932 12
3. Caution Flags: 1933–1934 24
4. First Runs, First Tour, First Problems, Fast Girls: 1935 45
5. Building Community: 1936 70
6. Four Points: 1937 91
Part II: Crossing the Wide Waters 109
7. Changing Gears: 1938 110
8. Pals Forever: 1939 133
9. Who Wins, Who Plays the Game: 1940 163
10. Hostilities: 1941 182
11. Standing Ready: 1942–1943 199
12. Fighting Chance: 1944–1945 221
13. Recovery: 1946–1948 237
14. A Sisterhood Found: 1949 to WIMA 256
Epilogue: The End of the Road Marks a Beginning 279
Bibliography 297
Index 309

Book Reviews & Awards

• “A lively, engaging account of the life and times of Scherbyn …[an] impressive motorcycling biography…. a remarkable job of explaining Scherbyn’s journey … The images in the book offer a visual representation of this history and allow the reader to reflect on a time in America characterized by big smiles on the faces of riders experiencing times of joy amid economic strife. …well-researched … Anyone who values motorcycle history and black and white photography will want to add [this book] to their shelves. Highly recommended! The Vintagent

• “Brilliant…This is one book I look forward to reading again.”—Cristine Sommer Simmons, three time motorcycle hall of fame inductee, author of The American Motorcycle Girls 1900-1950

• “An engrossing tale…a poignant and multi-dimensional narrative; a carefully written, richly detailed account of one woman’s vision to create a more equitable and inclusive future for all women motorcyclists.”—Sheila Malone, PhD, editor, International Journal of Motorcycle Studies

•“Brimming with amazing photographs and a captivating history, Iron Horse Cowgirls truly invites readers along for a ride—and not just one about twentieth century motorcycle culture and history. At its heart is the story of one woman’s determination to pave a new road for women who wanted to ride and compete in male-dominated motorcycle spaces.”—Amy C. Sullivan, PhD, Macalaster College

• “In taking up the mantle of co-author Linda Back McKay’s final research project, poring through the treasure trove of Scherbyn’s photos and correspondence, and crafting a breezy, conversational narrative, Vogl takes readers along for the ride as Scherbyn and her fellow female ‘citizen riders’ carve space for themselves in the male-dominated world of motorcycling … Imagine Louise Scherbyn’s pleasure at seeing her story captured so beautifully.”—Kim Heikkila, PhD, author of Booth Girls: Pregnancy, Adoption, and the Secrets We Kept and Sisterhood of War: Minnesota Women in Vietnam

• “Kate St. Vincent Vogl roars across the page bringing news of the first women stunt riders with excitement and panache. This trailblazing, down-home history is a tour de force. Don’t miss the show.”—Elizabeth Cobbs, author of Fearless Women: Feminist Patriots from Abigail Adams to Beyoncé