Black and white portrait of Emily Post wearing a formal dress with lace sleeves.

Emily Post: Trailblazer, Author & Roadtripper

Black and white portrait of Emily Post wearing a formal dress with lace sleeves.

Emily Post: Trailblazer, Author & Roadtripper

Before Emily Post became an expert on etiquette, she was one of the first cross-country road trippers. Read more to learn about how she made automotive history.

For millions of Americans, the name Emily Post is synonymous with etiquette. But before she became a cultural icon for expounding timeless advice on weddings, business, and entertaining, Post was writing about her automotive adventures. She became one of the earliest road trippers when she took a writing assignment that had her driving coast to coast across the U.S. Her travel writings helped power the growing popularity of long-distance auto travel as a leisure activity.

Passenger side of a two-toned green 1914 Sunbeam 12/16 hp car on display behind ropes at a car show with other antique cars in the background.
Source: “1914 Sunbeam 12/16 hp” by sv1ambo used under CC BY 2.0

Road Trips on the Rise

In the early 1900s, the idea of traveling long distances by car was just starting to take hold. The first cross-country road trip was completed in 1903 and, just six years later, Alice Ramsey became the first woman to embark on a cross-country trip.

Once it was demonstrated that such travel was possible, cross-country trips became a trend that fueled the quick construction of roadside restaurants, hotels, and gas stations. Even though they were certainly more cumbersome and challenging than they are today, road trips captured America’s interest.

They captured Post’s interest too. She had started writing in the early 1900s, primarily about architecture and interior design for newspapers. She moved on to writing stories for magazines like Harper’s and Scribner’s, and after divorcing her husband in her 30s, she began embarking on her writing career in earnest.

Despite coming of age in an era where women were not expected to work — or divorce their husbands — Post was eager to explore new adventures, and she could fluidly write in a variety of styles. She was still largely unknown when she landed an assignment from Collier’s, a popular weekly magazine of the day, to experience and write about a cross-country adventure. And so, on April 25, 1915, the 42-year-old Post left her home in New York City with a destination of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.

Taking Their Time

With her son, Edwin, at the wheel and her cousin, Alice Beadleston, in the back seat, Post headed toward San Francisco. She doesn’t write about what kind of car they traveled in, although her writing gives a hint that it must have been a larger touring model to accommodate three passengers and enough luggage for a nearly month-long journey.

Collier’s magazine was picking up the tab, and although the trip was long, the trio was in no hurry to arrive. Their version of the American road trip was decidedly first class. They stuck to the best roads and stopped at the finer restaurants and hotels.

They also paused to sightsee at such places as the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls, as well as making a few unplanned stops for car repairs. When all was said and done, the trip took 27 days.

Source: Emil Fuchs, via Wikimedia Commons

Wheels to Words

Collier’s published her adventures in September 1915 in a series called “By Motor to the Fair.” The following year, it was published as the book “By Motor to the Golden Gate,” and it established Post’s voice as a mature writer.

She penned vivid descriptions of the countryside as she experienced it and was equally detailed when it came to the sights they took in, the food they ate, and the hotels where they slept. This work also displayed her attention for detail, including her down-to-the-penny expense records and her hand-drawn maps.

Starting and Ending Points

Today, Post’s book about her cross-country adventure is a fascinating read not only for the way she describes the early days of American automotive and travel culture but also from the standpoint of how she interpreted it.

She famously went on to write about etiquette, beginning by publishing her first book on the subject in 1922. “Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home” became a bestseller that established her as the original expert on etiquette. By the time she died in 1960 at the age of 87, her book on etiquette had been revised many times and was in its 89th printing.

The Emily Post Institute, which she founded in 1946, continues to offer the latest advice on protocol and propriety, and Post’s direct descendants are still at the helm.

There are many women who played important roles in automotive history. What other female automotive trailblazers would you like to see featured on our blog? Let us know by commenting on our Facebook page.