Throwback Thursday: Female hitchhiking on the rise

A trio of travelers hitchhike along Locust Street in Dubuque. On July 11, 1971, the Telegraph Herald reported on the growing phenomenon of female hitchhikers and the potential risks.

Growing numbers of young women skipped taxis and bus rides and chose a cheaper — but riskier — form of crosstown travel 50 years ago in Dubuque.

Authorities warned that thumbing a ride from strangers posed numerous risks, but officials’ words of caution weren’t enough to deter rising numbers of hitchhikers within the city.

Here is how the Telegraph Herald reported on the phenomenon in its July 11, 1971, edition.


There are a number of observations that could be advanced on the growing phenomenon of female hitchhiking, the most of which might be: Your run-of-the-mill, hill-district-to-downtown (or vice versa) female thumber is keeping her mode of travel from her parents.

“My God, no. Don’t use my name or picture. If my parents find out I’m hitchhiking, I’ll get slaughtered,” blurted a 17-year-old.

“Same here,” said her 18-year-old sidekick. “My folks don’t like me to hitchhike. And this is the first time I’ve done it in over a year.”

So goes the typical comment from a new breed of female whose curbside presence is becoming more common.

A variety of factors have contributed to females joining a practice that had commonly been restricted to males.

For one thing, hitchhiking is convenient and much more practical than running your own car or paying bus or cab fare, especially if you’re young (most range from mid-teens to mid-20s) and poor (college girls, for instance).

“I was just hard up for cash and couldn’t even afford a bus,” said a 20-year-old college student who used to hitch rides to her downtown job after classes. She doesn’t want her name used either, because “my mother would absolutely kill me.”

It takes a certain type of woman, said the coed, to thumb a conveyance.

“Most of the people I know who hitchhike are liberated in most ways,” she said. “For instance, they don’t care what people think about hitchhiking. They think hitchhiking — just like everything else — is as much for women and it is for men.”

J.M. Orngard, information officer with the Iowa Department of Public Safety, said that hitchhiking is legal in Iowa — except where prohibited by municipalities — with one quirk: A person may solicit a ride on the interstate highway system but it is not legal for anyone to pick him up.

The female thumb wavers aren’t really a problem in Dubuque, “just so long as they stay back on the curb,” said Police Chief Robert J. O’Brien.

“But let me say this — we do consider female hitchhiking a particularly dangerous, risky practice. The reasons are obvious — rape, assault, lewdness.”

That doesn’t seem to bother the ladies as they partake in their newly unshackled freedom.

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