Editor’s Note: The following is the second in a four-part series showcasing 12 female riders with historic significance.
Facts: Founder of the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club, she fought through the barriers of being a black, female motorcycle rider and became an Army motorcycle dispatch rider in WWII. She became an AMA Hall of Fame Member in 2002.
As a teenager, Bessie made a name for herself by traveling around the United States on a perpetual quest for adventure. In 1929 she became the first African-American woman to travel across the US alone, on a motorcycle. According to the legend, Bessie started riding as a teen and would flip a coin onto a map of the US and then ride to that point. Truly a free spirit, Bessie even spent time as a stunt rider in regional carnivals and was known for her signature move of standing on the seat of one of the 27 Harley Davidson motorcycles she owned over the years. She is also credited with eight transcontinental rides and is supposed to have ridden through all lower 48 states.
This charismatic gal fought through a lot of obstacles along the way including the fact that she was a black woman and she was a woman riding a motorcycle by herself.
She toured the deep-south, where racism was prevalent and dangerous for anyone of color, but she deserves credit for doing as she darn well pleased on her mission to share her joy of riding with anyone she came in contact with.
Adeline van Buren’s effort from 20-years earlier paid off for Bessie when she managed to become a civilian Army motorcycle dispatch rider in WWII. She even won a flat track race while disguised as a man, of course, she was refused her prize money once she took her helmet off and revealed her true gender, but she had proved her point. Women can really ride. In the 1950s she made Miami her home and continued to ride, tour and enjoy life on two wheels. She also became a nurse and founded the Iron Horse MC Club. In the years that followed she became known as the ‘Motorcycle Queen of Miami’. Bessie Stringfield AMA Hall of Fame Bio
Facts: Founder of the Motor Maids, she was inducted to the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2004.
Linda starting riding in 1932 and the tales of her riding adventures graced the pages of many of the leading motorcycle publications at the time. Dugeau had a real knack for riding as she used motorcycles to get to and from college, and later as part of her daily commute through the sketchy city streets of Boston. In yet another example of the old six-degrees of separation, she met a fellow female rider who made her aware of the famous 99 Club made up entirely of female pilots (Remember, Gussie van Buren was both a 99 and a woman rider). In 1938, she initiated a campaign to form a women’s motorcycle club. She spent the better part of a decade petitioning females who owned and rode their own motorcycles to join her club until a fortuitous meeting with Dot Robinson helped it all come together.
The pair made it their three year-long mission to recruit 50 female riders who owned and rode their own motorcycles. Eventually, the Motor Maids of America was established in 1940 with Dugeau as founder and Robinson serving as club President. The club was awarded it official AMA Charter in 1941, making it the oldest AMA recognized motorcycle club for women in the USA. The Motor Maids gained popularity rapidly through their regular participation in AMA races and events. The members, dressed in their signature long white gloves, would parade on the race courses much to the delight of men and women alike. Linda Dugeau would be inducted to the AMA Hall of Fame in 2004.
Facts: Known as the First Lady of Sturgis, Pearl and her husband Pappy founded the legendary Sturgis Rally and was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 1991.
Pearl is not on this because of her amazing riding feats, instead she makes the cut because of her contribution to the motorcycle industry. As a recognized pillar of the community and long-time member of the Sturgis municipalities, she was instrumental in getting the townsfolk of Sturgis to accept her husband’s wild ideas. It’s a good thing they did as their annual motorcycle rally attracts riders from all across the United States to their little piece of heaven in the Black Hills. Her husband gets the official credit for forming the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club and the Black Hills Motor Classic event, but the story is that Pearl had the influence that made it all happen. Basically, she was the glue that held all the many complicated pieces together and allowed the Sturgis Rally to persevere and grow. Her reputation and influence over the wives of the local businessman was a key ingredient to the recipe for success.
The couple established their Indian Motorcycle Dealership which was the conduit to the creation of the Jackpine Gypsies, men-only club for the folks who bought Indians from the dealership. In 1937 the Gypsies invited the Rapid City Pioneers Motorcycle Club to Sturgis for the inaugural Black Hills Motor Classic and the rest as they say, is history. The Sturgis business owners were happy to see the people coming into the town from all over, just to participate in the event and together with the Hoel family, they laid the foundation for what is arguably the most recognized motorcycle rally on the planet.
What started as a handful of enthusiasts riding around the old horse flat track for fun and camping in the backyard of the Hoel residence has evolved into an event that brings in a half-million riders to the region. As the years went by, the Sturgis Rally grew beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, and Pearl has served as the constant presence through it all. She was also the conduit to the original history of the rally, responsible for telling tales, recounting facts and sharing that information with anyone, journalists in particular, who asked for her help. She was active in the rally until the day she passed away in 2005 at the age of 99 and was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1991. She will always be known as the “First Lady of Sturgis.”
The first six women highlighted were all women who deserve to be recognized for the pioneering effort and riding spirit in the early years of motorcycle history. The transcontinental rides, the breakthrough in women’s rights and the formation of clubs and events like Sturgis are all huge accomplishments that deserve to be remembered. The funny thing is, that each of them started out with a simple passion for motorcycles. It’s the same burning desire to feel the win on our face and that freedom and independence that exemplifies what it means to ride a motorcycle.
We will continue to ride the way-back machine for a little while longer by taking a peek at the accomplishments of a few ladies that know a thing or two about twisting a more modern throttle. As the decades transitioned from the 50s and 60s to the 70s and 80s the emphasis on riders that have done memorable things seems to have revolved around racing exploits. For that reason, the next batch of battling beauties starts with a few gals who made a name for themselves by riding a motorcycle a few miles per hour beyond its limits.
Interested in Part III, click here.