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Rebel Women Without a Cause – Photos of Female Motorcyclists in the 1940s

Nikola Budanovic

Motorcycles have long represented freedom and have been part of popular culture ever since they became available to the wider public in the first half of the 20th century. Subcultures evolved around them, forming their own styles, markings and tribal-like codes of behavior.

Movies that garnered cult status like The Wild One, starring Marlon Brando or James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause propelled this popularity to reach new heights.  In the 1940s and throughout the 1950s, leather jackets, greased hair and Harley Davidson’s two-wheeled beasts became all the rage across the United States of America.

However, while motorcycles are most often related to the masculine rebellious image, leaving women out of the picture, in 1949, one LIFE Magazine photographer dared to prove otherwise.

Loomis Dean, a notable professional photographer, captured a series of images in 1949, depicting women riding bikes, just as confidently as their male counterparts would.

Not only did the women ride motorcycles, which was enough to shake the social norms of the time, but they were also wearing pants, which was also an uncommon sight in the 1940s.

Titled simply “Bike Girls”, Loomis managed to produce many photos of them in action and publish them in a respected magazine with a nationwide audience.

But these unknown girls weren’t the only ones rocking their motorcycles at the time. The first-ever all female motorcycle club ― the Motor Maids ― was actually formed some nine years earlier, in 1940, challenging stereotypes.

Whether these gals were members of the club is hard to conclude, however, if they were, they certainly aren’t wearing the Motor Maid standard uniform, which included a cap, white gloves and a combination of blue and silver attire.

A group of women dubbed the ‘Motor Maids of America’ sit astride their motorcycles outside the shop they use as their headquarters. (Photo by Douglas Grundy/Three Lions/Getty Images)

A group of women dubbed the ‘Motor Maids of America’ sit astride their motorcycles outside the shop they use as their headquarters. (Photo by Douglas Grundy/Three Lions/Getty Images)

A group of women dubbed the ‘Motor Maids of America’ sit astride their motorcycles. (Photo by Douglas Grundy/Three Lions/Getty Images)

A group of women dubbed the ‘Motor Maids of America’ sit astride their motorcycles. (Photo by Douglas Grundy/Three Lions/Getty Images)

On a bike 1941

On a bike 1941

Two Chinese women riding a motorcycle with sidecar Photo by simpleinsomnia CC BY 2.0

Two Chinese women riding a motorcycle with sidecar Photo by simpleinsomnia CC BY 2.0

Women riding motorcycles in 1941

Women riding motorcycles in 1941

Adeline and Augusta Van Buren, first women to ride across the USA by motorcycle.

Adeline and Augusta Van Buren, first women to ride across the USA by motorcycle.

Photo by FORTEPAN / Fábián Sámuel CC BY SA 3.0

Photo by FORTEPAN / Fábián Sámuel CC BY SA 3.0

Sally Halterman

Sally Halterman

Nevertheless, at the time all of the female enthusiasts strived for one thing ― the breaking of stereotypes about women bikers, as well as normalization of the image of women enjoying motorcycles.

Read another story from us: Queens of the Road – Vintage Women on Bicycles

Mind you, this image has still remained hindered when faced against the dominant view of motorcycles being a “guy’s thing”, with all-female motorcycle clubs still being a struggling minority.