Bessie Stringfield, Your New Patron Saint of Adventure
Each week we will feature the kind of everyday heroes you can look up to. They come from all walks of life, age groups and beliefs. We hope you’ll learn as much from them as we have!
August is the month of changes, of possibilities, endings and beginnings. Schoolwork looms nearer, pools are emptying, but the month also offers the potential for discoveries academic or otherwise. I have a love-hate relationship with August; as a curious (i.e. nosey) kid, I looked forward to being in school and being introduced to new concepts in the classroom. All my friends were at school, rather than scattered about on vacations or busy playing sports, and we could compare stories, sunburns, or how tall we’d gotten in the months away. However, August also symbolized the end of leisurely freedom – the late nights watching HBO and eating ice cream without my parents knowing were pulled to a jarring halt right around the middle of the month.
Still, what I remember most about August, about those weeks leading up to my return to normality, is watching my Dad prep for his classes. Most people think History teachers have it easy. The common belief is they simply tell every class the same thing over and over again. That’s true for most, but my Dad isn’t your average nerd. Each year he looked for unique ways to spark a little interest in his students. He read new books, watched new documentaries, and went off to conferences around the country. My brother and I always looked forward to what he would bring back from his travels to exotic places like Atlanta and Phoenix.
Bessie Stringfield, today’s person you should definitely know, reminds me so much of those days spent watching documentaries with my Dad, enraptured by the adventures and daring lives. Bessie was born in 1911 and by the time she died in 1993 she had earned the moniker “Motorcycle Queen of Miami” for her feats on the Harley-Davidsons she loved. Despite the restrictions of the times, Bessie got her first bike at the age of 16, then traveled the country alone. She slept on her ride when she was denied a room at hotels, rode in carnivals for money, then eventually made it through all of the states in addition to Europe. He skill was so formidable that she would become a motorcycle courier in WWII, tasked with transporting sensitive information.
She embellished many of the details of her life for the rapt audiences of her young relatives and the children she took care of after settling in Florida as a housekeeper, however the fact that she lived an extraordinary life remains unquestionable. She was posthumously inducted into the American Motorcyclist Association Hall of Fame in 2002, long after her death, but I doubt she needed the accolades to validate her bad-assery.
What I love about the story of Bessie Stringfield is her relentless pursuit of what made her happy. Against the protestations of her family, she traversed the segregated and misogynistic landscape of the United States in search of her own slice of that ever-elusive peace we experience in following our hearts. When I lie awake in this unfamiliar town, missing the comfort of a controllable environment, I try to imagine what Bessie might have felt right before she did a trick for an audience. I sit in awe of her grit and feel slightly gobsmacked that she had the audacity to be free.
If you need encouragement to follow where your soul wants to lead, if you need a push to re-discover your dreams, or just a reminder that it’s alright to be a little bit off, look no further than Bessie. August is the month of discovery, after all.
Who are you emulating today? Let me know in the comments whose stories you can’t get out of your head. As always, stay safe out there!
You can read Bessie’s obituary in the NYT here.
I love this art essay of her by Rejected Princesses, which you can read here.