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“There are all types of rugged, and not all of them are physical. It takes tough mental grit — foresight, planning, and craftiness — to do what Bessie did in the Jim Crow era and get away with it.”

Ann ferrar

I’d like you to meet Bessie Stringfield…

Bessie was born in 1911 or 1912. At the age of sixteen, she was given a motorcycle and taught herself to ride.

In 1930, Bessie was the first Black woman to take a solo motorcycle trip across America. By the end of her life, she had traveled around the country eight times and visited all of the lower 48 states.

Bessie planned her routes by tossing a penny onto a map to see where she would go next. And to earn money during her travels, she would sometimes perform motorcycle stunts in carnival shows. She was often denied lodging due to her color and so would sleep on her bike at a filling station. She was denied the prizes she won in races because she was a woman. But she kept riding anyway because she loved it.

During World War II, Bessie served as a civilian motorcycle dispatch rider for the US Army, delivering messages to bases all around the United States. Here’s a short clip showing part of the training course that the riders faced.

After the war, Bessie moved to Miami, Florida, and became certified as a nurse. She was soon a well-known rider in town and formed the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club. She was given the nickname of Motorcycle Queen of Miami.

Bessie continued to ride for as long as possible but eventually had to give it up. She died of heart disease in 1993.

Book titled Fast Enough stands behind an open graphic novel and a toy motorcycle
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Read more about Bessie Stringfield online

The primary source for Bessie Stringfield’s story is Ann Ferrar’s website – Bessie Stringfield Book

Ann is also currently writing a definitive biography of Bessie titled, African American Queen of the Road: A Woman’s Journey Through Faith, Resilience and the Road. I look forward to reading it once it has been published!

Other places you can read about Bessie:

Hear Me Roar book with toy motorcycle sitting in dry grass near gravel path
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Ann Ferrar’s first book, Hear Me Roar, includes a shorter version of Bessie Stringfield’s story along with other women’s motorcycle history. If you are interested in motorcycles, you should check it out!

Books about Bessie Stringfield

Joel Christian Gill has written and illustrated two children’s books about Bessie – Fast Enough, Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride and Bessie Stringfield, Tales of the Talented Tenth #2. I particularly enjoyed the graphic novel.

Charles R. Smith also wrote a children’s book about Bessie called Bessie The Motorcycle Queen. This is a brand new book published just this week so I haven’t read it yet.

What I love about this story…

There are several things that I love about this story. First, Bessie herself. I love how independent and courageous she was to lead such an unconventional life. As a woman and as a Black woman, she faced discrimination, danger, and gossip but she lived a life she loved, unapologetically.

I love that she loved to travel and I love how she planned her road trip destinations by tossing a penny onto the map. There really is SO MUCH to see out there and some of the most interesting things are found off the beaten path. Maybe I should plan my own penny trip…

While not technically a veteran since she served as a civilian, I love that she used her particular skills and talents to support her country during the war.

I also love that her story was saved. Her legacy and memory would have died with her if it weren’t for that chance meeting at the Motorcycle Museum between Bessie and Ann Ferrar. This one amazing story has been saved and shared with the world so that we can also know of Bessie and be inspired by her to live our own lives of truth.

Another Bessie who was lost to history…

I recently heard a podcast episode about Bessie Blount Griffin. After this short 10-minute episode, I wanted to know more about her so I looked for information online or for books written about her but there was so little available. Her story was limited to single-page essays in a couple of compilation books about several women. Online, almost every article I found repeated the same basic information. I wanted more!

Sadly Bessie Blount Griffin has passed away and with her went more of her story. And now that’s probably all we’ll ever have. Just a few paragraphs about how she invented a feeding device and taught veteran amputees how to write with their teeth and feet and then went on to become a forensic handwriting analyst with Scotland Yard.

See – now you want to know more too, don’t you?! Imagine if someone like Ann Ferrar had captured and saved Bessie Blount Griffin’s story to share with the world. So many people (and women in particular) have done amazing things but their stories are lost to history. I guess I’ll just have to be thankful that at least Bessie Stringfield’s story has been saved.

Find more remarkable women

According to researchers, women’s stories make up less than one percent of recorded history, despite being half of the world’s population. Can you say underrepresented?!?

Here’s a NY Times article published during Women’s History Month in 2019 – 15 Women We Shouldn’t Forget that offers just a drop in the bucket of stories no one learns about in school. Bessie Stringfield is mentioned in that article among other women such as a tiger tamer, a mountain climber, a marathon runner, an opera singer, and a taxi driver, just to name a few.

We need to actively look for women’s stories, and put them back into the historical narrative, there are so many women that should be household names but just aren’t.

Dr Bettany Hughes

I challenge you to find these stories and share them with the world…

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Title Image with text: Bessie Stringfield Motorcycle Queen of Miami
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