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"I was somethin'!"
June 14, 2012 12:02 PM   Subscribe

Bessie Stringfield rode across the US alone, 8 times. In the 20's, 30's and 40's, women didn't ride motorcycles and black women didn't travel alone, especially in the South. But Bessie rode until she died, for the US Army, based on a penny toss, wherever she wished.
posted by QIbHom (26 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, if I have to die for the US army on the basis of nothing but a coin toss, I guess I'd want to have a choice in where it would happen.
posted by koeselitz at 12:04 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry, joke. This is insanely fascinating - thanks!
posted by koeselitz at 12:05 PM on June 14, 2012


this is seriously awesome, thank you!
posted by By The Grace of God at 12:09 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why has there never been a film made about her?? Great post with cool info.
posted by Isadorady at 12:10 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is awesome but I can't tell exactly what "it" is. One of those articles doesn't say why she was doing this at all other than love of doing it. The other mentions working as a carrier for the Army for a while and the penny thing, but not connected to each other. I'm trying to figure out the finances. Was she continually doing this and working odd jobs or was it a summer thing or what?
posted by DU at 12:11 PM on June 14, 2012


Apparently she performed as a stunt rider and worked as a nurse. And there is the mysterious unnamed Irish mother,
posted by Isadorady at 12:17 PM on June 14, 2012


Oh, wikipedia says she did stunt shows (and lists one of these articles as a reference for that, so I just can't read).
posted by DU at 12:18 PM on June 14, 2012


I love everything about this story, though I kind of wish she got into the motorcycle hall of fame before her death. She sounds amazing, I wonder if there is old interview footage of her around?

For some reason this reminds me of when I was about 20 years old and I learned my little old grandmother got in a fight with her mom in NYC at age 16 in the 1930s, had just graduated HS early, so she hitchhiked across the entire US and ended up in LA a month later with just a small bag and pocket change and basically started from nothing and lived the rest of her life in LA.
posted by mathowie at 12:18 PM on June 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


I know I should be saying, "What a pioneer! Big ups for women and black people!" but really I just covet those outfits. Sassy three-buckle belts and tight little riding trousers: hawt.
posted by Madamina at 12:19 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


About 15 years ago I saw film on PBS about women motorcyclists (POV? Independent Lens?), I've never been able to find it again. Had a nice section on woman who had been a professional rider for Harley. She was in her 90's at the time, still riding.
posted by 445supermag at 12:24 PM on June 14, 2012


By putting "credited with breaking down barriers for both women and African American motorcyclists" at the top of her Wikipedia entry it makes her sound like a civil rights activist who set that as a primary and stated objective, and I don't think that's at all accurate. That's the trouble with Wikipedia; feel-good social rectitude stuff like that gets in and it's more or less politically impossible to change it; but I don't think a professional editor would have chosen that as a top-line summary of her life's adventure. It may have been an effect but it doesn't appear to have been her cause, so to speak.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:28 PM on June 14, 2012


I love the photo of her laying on her motorcycle. What a life (despite social hardships). Anyone who flips a coin to determine her adventures is definately a person I admire and wish I could do that.

Good for her. Thanks for the inspiring post.
posted by stormpooper at 12:37 PM on June 14, 2012


Why has there never been a film made about her??

Someone should get on this. And Sonja Sohn should portray her. And then I will buy many tickets to watch the movie.
posted by macadamiaranch at 1:19 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


This kind of stuff is what I imagine when I hear "Best of the Web."
posted by drlith at 1:30 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anyone who flips a coin to determine her adventures is definately a person I admire and wish I could do that.

I'll send you a penny, if it'll help. (Seriously, motorcycles are pretty great, and there's no reason not to give 'em a try if your interested. OTOH, I have a good friend who gave 'em a try, and it turned out he wasn't suited for it. So: there's "givin' it a try," and then there's "not quittin' while you're ahead." One's OK; the other, not so much.)
posted by spacewrench at 1:32 PM on June 14, 2012


Oh dear god, here's the extra "e" and apostrophe from my previous comment: 'e. Please insert appropriately.
posted by spacewrench at 1:33 PM on June 14, 2012


Why has there never been a film made about her??

Queen Latifah could make this happen.

I know I should be saying, "What a pioneer! Big ups for women and black people!" but really I just covet those outfits. Sassy three-buckle belts and tight little riding trousers: hawt.

IKR? I'd love to have been the seventh Mr. Stringfield.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:48 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is probably a stretch but this makes me think of a line from Dylan's "Gates of Eden" that I've always wondered about:

The motorcycle black madonna
Two-wheeled gypsy queen
And her silver-studded phantom cause
The gray flannel dwarf to scream

posted by allseeingabstract at 2:03 PM on June 14, 2012


About 15 years ago I saw film on PBS about women motorcyclists (POV? Independent Lens?), I've never been able to find it again.

Perhaps "Girl Gone Bad" season 2 episode 5 broadcast in 2000?

"Girl Gone Bad" is a portrayal of women who have chosen to make motorcycle riding the defining aspect of their personalities. Among the women depicted in the film are an LAPD motor officer, and, a "Playboy" model.

I can't find any clips, but I did find this while looking, and it's pretty jangleplatz in its own right.
posted by calamari kid at 2:30 PM on June 14, 2012


She was a bad-ass, and cute as a button too. How does that happen?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:03 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love this! If nobody wrote a blues song about her, someone should. Yes, she is brave, reverent and hot!
posted by mermayd at 3:11 PM on June 14, 2012


That's the trouble with Wikipedia; feel-good social rectitude stuff like that gets in and it's more or less politically impossible to change it; but I don't think a professional editor would have chosen that as a top-line summary of her life's adventure.

It's likely there basically as an assertion of notability (to avoid drive-by deletion), rather than a PC thing. I fiddled with the structure of the opening to balance things better.
posted by dhartung at 3:18 PM on June 14, 2012


I can't find any clips, but I did find this while looking, and it's pretty jangleplatz in its own right.
posted by calamari kid


Thank you, that's her! With her name I found a NYT article that talks a little about her background:

Although she might well reject the label, Ms. Robinson is certainly a feminist pioneer. In 1935, she and her husband, Earl, set the record for a cross-country motorcycle run (89 hours), with a sidecar attached. After winning a 500-mile endurance run on the East Coast, Ms. Robinson waged a successful campaign to overturn the American Motorcycle Association's ban on including women in its national competition. She went on to found the Motor Maids, a flourishing women's motorcycle club whose members wear quaint blue uniforms, white boots and white handkerchiefs.

This one has a pic of her in 1947 (and a lot of details).
posted by 445supermag at 8:07 PM on June 14, 2012


I was working on the independent lens website at that time, and indeed girlsgonebad was one of the shows. I have some dead links to a clip (oh god, Real Player) but I don't actually have the clips. I do have some text from the site (which was just a summary and a brief interview with the filmmaker). Let me see if I can find it on the web, if not, I'll post it here.
posted by maxwelton at 9:19 PM on June 14, 2012


Ah. Here is the summary and the interview on archive.org, with no stylesheet, but whatever, the site design was pretty bare bones anyway.

All that said, I have no idea if they featured Ms. Springfield in the film.
posted by maxwelton at 9:24 PM on June 14, 2012


And here's a page on the film itself, from the filmmaker. He does not list Springfield in the credits, which probably makes sense.
posted by maxwelton at 9:26 PM on June 14, 2012


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