Abbie Perry of Oneonta might have been amused with the Jan and Dean song that hit the pop music charts in June 1964 called “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” a song based on an aging woman driving fast cars. In September 1958, The Oneonta Star featured Abbie in an article calling her “Otsego’s First Lady of the Road,” and told of how she was no stranger to driving stock cars as she approached the age of 70, among other highly respectable achievements in her time behind the wheel.
“Mrs. Abbie M. Perry is the first woman to get a chauffer license in Otsego County,” readers learned on Monday, Sept. 22, 1958. “That was in 1916, and she’s still going strong. She has driven more than 2,000,000 miles, never had an accident and never got a traffic ticket.” In fact, if you purchased a new car at Oneonta Ford Sales Co. in 1929, then found on Market Street at the corner of South Main Street, Abbie probably taught you how to drive it.
Abbie’s career as a professional driver began when she and her husband, James Perry, lived in the town of Maryland. There was no bus to Oneonta, although there were a few trains per day. People apparently wanted their conveniences back then, and one was transportation more fitting to their schedules.
“I had a model T Ford which we bought from Stanley Chase in Schenevus,” Abbie said. “People would say, ‘Take me to Oneonta.’ I thought to myself, gracious, I could do better at this than taking in washing,” for additional income. “So I got a chauffer’s license and began taking them to Oneonta. I could carry five besides myself and I charged $3 a load. It was up to them to split the cost.”
Mrs. Perry and 19 male applicants were verbally examined at the Oneonta Hotel by a state inspector, and then given road tests.