The First Woman To Cross America in a Car: Marie Selby


selby-botanical-gardens-house-palmsMarie was born in West Virginia in 1885 but when she was a young girl, the family moved to Ohio. While at Marietta College, her father invented parts for oil drilling equipment and made his fortune.

Marie became an accomplished pianist and while completing her studies she met her father’s partner in the Selby Oil and Gas Company – Bill Selby. They were married in 1908.

Like the rest of the nation, Bill and Marie were intrigued by cross-country automobile racing, a new fad gripping the nation.


The house in these photos is the Christy Payne mansion on the Selby Botanical grounds. I’ll mention its history at the end of the post.

selby-botanical-gardens-greenhouseIt all began in 1903 when Horatio Nelson Jackson (a doctor who’d retired in his 30’s due to tuberculosis) and Sewall Crocker (a former bicyclist and mechanic), accepted a $50 bet to drive across the country.

Horatio made a wager during a bar debate over “horseless carriages” that he could make it to New York City in less than 90 days. It would be the first American roadtrip.


selby-botanical-gardens-frontHe purchased a used cherry red Winton car even though the founder of the Winton Motor Carriage Company, Alexander Winton, warned Horatio that he had failed to cross the country in one himself. He’d never even made it past the desert.

Horatio and Sewall packed sleeping bags, cooking supplies, a rifle, shotgun, pistols…remember the road was often unpaved, the country untamed…and many other supplies that could barely be tied onto the car.


selby-botanical-gardens-back-doorsThe entire journey was rough with the car frequently breaking down and the lack of paved roads, road signs or gas stations adding to the difficulty.

After one breakdown Horatio bought Bud, a bull terrier dog, to be their new lucky charm. Bud wore motoring goggle to protect his eyes from dust which was very cute but did not bring them much luck.

Bud the dog and Sewall in the car. Sewall is driving, Bud has googles on.

Bud & Sewall during the trip.

Marie and Bill in their car packed to the brim.

Marie and Bill on their own cross country adventure, source.

The pair finally reached New York City on July 26 in the Winton, 63 days after they had started. There was little fanfare to celebrate their success as it was 4:30 a.m. Horatio had won the $50 bet but after all the repairs it had cost him $8,000 to make the trip.

Somehow, no part of this story put Bill and Marie Selby off. In fact, they were so inspired that they set out to travel the same course in their own car. They packed up some spare parts and camping equipment and then set out themselves.

selby-botanical-gardens-house-seatsTheir successful trip made Marie the first woman to cross the country by car. And they made the trip in six days less than the Vermont!

In the early 1920s the Selbys built a Spanish style house in Florida, near the fishing waters that Bill enjoyed. Marie designed the landscaping (it’s now a botanical garden).


selby-botanical-gardens-house-rearBill died in 1956 and Marie lived in the house until her death in 1971. She left her home and gardens to the public, now the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.

selby-botanical-gardens-house-gardenPayne Mansion

*Many believe that the house on the Selby Botanical Gardens grounds was the Selbys’. It was actually Christy Payne’s retirement home.

Christy’s father built his fortune in oil with John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Christy followed his father’s footsteps and served as director for Standard Oil before retiring to Florida.

Obsessed with building his retirement home, he created a collage of his favorite homes and gave them to his architect A.C. Price to blend all the ideas together into one home. Christy lived in his dream house until his death 27 years later.

It now houses a changing gallery of botanical art and photography.

selby-botanical-gardens-house-mossSources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5