Bessie Stringfield, the “Motorcycle Queen of Miami”, broke barriers for women and African-American cyclists. Throughout her life she completed eight solo cross-country tours and served as a U.S. Army motorcycle dispatch rider. In 2002, she was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

History of Women in Motorcycles
Bessie Stringfield Photo Courtesy of AMA Motorcycle Museum

Born in Jamaica in 1911, she moved to Boston with her family and was orphaned by the age of five.  Bessie never mentioned her adoptive mother’s name in interviews, but she gave Bessie her first motorcycle at age 16, a 1928 Indian Scout. Her adopted mother was a devout Irish Catholic and believed giving Bessie a motorcycle was God’s will.  Bessie went on to say, “When I was in high school I wanted a motorcycle, and even though good girls didn’t ride motorcycles, I got one.”

Known as “BB” amongst friends, she took eight solo cross country trips in the 1930s and 1940s, as well as rides into Haiti, Europe, and South America.  Tossing a coin on a map would determine her next destination, and she would pick up gigs at carnival shows as a hill climber and stunt racer to  make money on the road.  It wasn’t easy for Bessie to find a place to stay overnight when she drove through a racially tense and segregated South. She discussed the challenge in Ann Ferrar’s book, Hear me Roar.

“If you had black skin, you couldn’t get a place to stay. I knew the Lord would take care of me, and He did. If I found black folks, I’d stay with them. If not, I’d sleep at filling stations on my motorcycle.”

In World War II, Bessie worked on courier duty as a civilian motorcycle dispatch rider for the Army. She completed intense training while serving, and learned such skills as weaving a makeshift bridge out of rope, and using tree limbs to cross swamps.

In the 1950s, Bessie bought a house in a Miami suburb, became a licensed practical nurse, and formed the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club. By this time she had been married and divorced six different times. While living there, she gained the lifelong moniker “The Motorcycle Queen of Miami.” In 1990, the AMA paid tribute to Bessie with the “Heroes of Harley Davidson” exhibit. Throughout her life, she owned 27 Harleys and claimed them to be “the only motorcycle ever made.” Bessie was still riding in 1993, when, at 82, her big, well-used heart beat its last.  

Bessie Springfield Women in Motorcycles
Bessie Stringfield Photo Courtesy of AMA Motorcycle Museum

Photos courtesy of the AMA Motorcycle Museum

 

22 Comments

22 thoughts on “Legendary Bessie Stringfield Motorcycle Queen”

    1. Andrew Furrer

      In Emmitsburg, MD you will the national fire academy, part of FEMA. It is an honor to attend the academy which I attend 8 times during my career as a Captain/Paramedic with the City of Vancouver, WA.

      There is plenty to see in Emmitsburg and free styling will meet with all of its glory as seen on your well viewed TV show.

  1. Steve

    Mike: I have watched most of your show’s and always look forward to them. The one thing that I see you pass over all the time is Black smith equipment. What I’m trying to say to you is you can pick up a lot of that stuff for a dime and make good money selling it. Anvils are at the top of the list, the bigger the better. My keeper anvil is 360#, I payed 450.00 for it and it is worth 1800.00. Other things to look out for are forges, big bellows, hammers, tongs, forge blowers etc and little giant power hammers are worth their weight in gold. I would like to see you buying this stuff. Everyone is looking for it. If I could help you in ID of the stuff I would be glad to help you out. E mail me if you like and I will give you my cell number.

    Steve

  2. Darren

    What a wonderful woman and a touching story. Thank you so much for sharing. I am so glad that God gave me the love for two wheels. There is NOTHING like it. Bessie I will ride some miles for you.

  3. Rich

    “..Throughout her life, she owned 27 Harleys and claimed them to be “the only motorcycle ever made.” AMA didn’t bother to mention the ’28 Indian Scout? That was a better bike than Harley ever built.

  4. Malcolm

    I love stories like this one. This is the stuff you don’t learn in school or find in a history book. Thanks and I will pass it along to my kids.

  5. Yvette

    Great read! Loved it even more, because she was a woman. She lived her life doing what she loved. Good for her. We should all learn something from reading her story. Love the show. Never miss an episode. Makes my “lifestyle” as a picker/junker more understood by my family and friends. When people ask me what i do? I tell them to watch American Pickers. Then they “get it”!

  6. Suzanne Blum

    I loved this Bessie story. This kind of lifestyle fascinates me, but I was too conventional and too conforming to ever have the Gonads to live that lifestyle. It sure is fun to read about women that could and did.
    PS…please slow down those historical blurbs on your show. I love to read them but never get to the last line or two. I’ve asked other people and they too have trouble. (We’re not that old, nor are we dumb.) Merci.

    1. Mike Blum

      Suzanne, My wife’s name is Sue…. so I had to comment on your post. Yes, “BB” was quite a gal…. sure wish I could have spent some time with her to hear her stories…
      mblum

  7. Alice Hanson

    I love stories like Bessie. Such a gutsy lady! Thanks for going the extra mile. I enjoy each and every one of your shows.
    Smiles, alice

  8. ADAM RIGHT

    Bessie is my hero !
    I wish I was there back then to ride along side her on all her adventures, no one would of worried her on her travels with me at her side, what a True American Hero she is to live a life like she did and to become a Nurse in them days with all them mean bad racist sub humans around her back then, she is what a true American motorcyclist stands for, freedom, courage, kindness and the true love for other people as a Nurse , what a beautiful soul of a woman was she, I don’t know what was up in the marriage department, I would simply suspect that all the x Ham husbands just could not keep up with her greatness.

    May her engine always stay warm, and may the hiways in heaven leed her to her true soul mate as she navigates the clouds in the skys of heavens infinite !

    One day a book should be written of all the cool story’s and adventures and people you all meet along the way, it would be a best seller.
    I would just love to sit back on a old couch in front of a crackling fire in a room full of itams that have tails behind them all, on a cool rainy fall day as the rain pounds down on my tin roof , with a nice hot cup of Herbal tea, and read a book on all the places people and things that you have come across, I can smell the apple wood smoke sent of the fire place now , and the cool fresh air winding it’s way around the edges of the old wood window frame as it blows the bottom of the white embroidered shears back and forth brushing against the sill, with a couple of dim lights in the distance glowing through some old rusty 32 grills, and looking up at a old wagon wheel that has been turned into a ceiling fan that has had its spokes sanded on a angel to create a ceiling fan affect, as it spins in the room dispersing the cool air coming in from the window and mixing with the sent of the apple wood coming from the burning fire place creating a uforea effect throughout my body, yes what a setting for a tale, from the travelers of the back roads of America Mike and Frank Fritz it would be !

  9. Matt McCorkle

    Mike, Frank, & Dani-D,
    I have watched almost all of you TV shows and you all are the best. I travel throughout South Texas on my job and I must admit, your job as a picker is extremely difficult. I am amazed that you are able to coordinated all of the functions of locating picks, cost control with your Ford Van on the road, interfacing with the people at the various locations, “breaking the ice”, climbing over century old barns with weak floors, working with property owners who do not want to sell, owners who want too much for the items you want to buy, and owners who say they want to sell but when you make an offer they tell you that item is not for sale. Needless to say every day picking is a rough day in the field. I wish I had your fortitude to drive the back dirt roads looking for a freestyle. My hat is off to all of you. I have learned so much from watching your show I hope it never ends.

    Keep On Pickin,

    Matt McCorkle
    735 International Blvd.
    Apt. 71
    Houston, TX 77024

  10. Amanda Ortega

    What an extraordinary life she lived. It would have been wonderful to have been able to sit and chat with her.
    Thank you for sharing her story.

  11. Susanne Brown

    My husband and watch all your shows and just made a trip to Iowa and Tennessee to see your collections and bought a few items. My husband Doc is reading your book. Great time and met a lot of people who share our interests. God bless you all and keep collecting for history “one piece at a time”

  12. Shirley shaffer

    Hi Mike,
    I heard that you take care of your store in Nashville,my husband and I was in that store and we saw stuff there you bought on tv we watch all your shows . I miss your brother Rob andFrank at Mt. savage Md. The guys there said you go to your Nashville store once a month . My husband and I are going to Nashville to visit our son . We are going September 16through the 20. I would really like to meet you would you be at your Nashville store at them dates . Would you email me and let me know. It takes us 10 hours to get there,but it would be awesome to meet you.
    Thank you Shirley Shaffer

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