Bessie Stringfield: Behind Her Biography by Ann Ferrar

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A critically acclaimed book of narrative non-fiction..


"A woman's symphony on the road."

New York Times



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Hear Me Roar: Women, Motorcycles and the Rapture of the Road


Hear Me Roar is a compelling book of narrative journalism that chronicles and celebrates diverse women, past and present, who have taken to the road on their Harleys and Hondas and every bike in between, as an expression of freedom and independence.

Of more than 100 women featured in Hear Me Roar, the most intriguing - the one people always want to know more about -- is the late Bessie Stringfield.

Ann Ferrar became Bessie Stringfield's biographer as well as her friend. The author recorded and preserved Stringfield's oral history, and was the first to introduce Bessie to a worldwide audience in the 1990s in the copyrighted pages of Hear Me Roar. Ferrar was inspired by Bessie's travels and the challenges she faced and overcame, as a black woman riding her Harley around the United States during the pre-Civil Rights era. In the book, Ferrar chronicled how Bessie was ahead of her time in many ways, and concluded that Bessie's adventures on two wheels defied both gender and racial barriers. (Scroll down for photos.)

In interviews for major periodicals and for television documentaries, Ferrar spoke about Stringfield, calling Bessie a "one-woman civil rights movement." Bessie didn't exactly march, but she rode and survived through very tough, segregated times and even life-threatening situations. The portrait of Bessie revealed by Ferrar in Hear Me Roar was only a small fraction of what is contained in Bessie's oral history, which Ferrar has preserved. Stay tuned for more on this later. Click on the "Bessie & Ann" link on top menu bar for more on Bessie's life and achievements from the author.

As for Bessie's "partners in crime" in Hear Me Roar, there were many other outstanding women bikers from the first half of the 20th century, including the Van Buren sisters, among the first women to cross the continent on the eve of America's entry into World War I; Dot Robinson, sidecar endurance champion and Motor Maids co-founder; and dozens of others who went against type.

Modern riders in the vanguard include women who have taken adventure and passion to extremes – nitro-fueled drag racers, speed-addicted road racers, high-flying motocrossers, and women who have made arduous journeys to both ends of the earth. These include Catharine Rambeau, who rode a dirt bike solo from Florida to Patagonia, South America; Sue Slate and Gin Shear, Arctic adventure riders and founders of the first national motorcycle relay ride to benefit breast cancer research; and Becky Brown, who, in the height of the women's movement in the 1970s, founded Women in the Wind, a group that has since gone international.

To research and write Hear Me Roar, Ann Ferrar rode 30,000 miles solo in the United States on her own motorcycle, as a journalist, photographer, researcher and participant-observer over a six-year time frame in the 1990s.

Hear Me Roar is the seminal book on American women bikers, the first of its kind, published by Crown in 1996 and reissued in 2000 by Whitehorse Press due to popular demand. Tracing the history of women in motorcycle sports and subcultures, the author sheds light on women riders from the early 1900s to the mid-1990s.

Society's perceptions of female riders are explored in the context of motor sports, lifestyles, mass media, fashion, history and pop culture through the decades. Beginning in the late 1980s and into the 1990s with the rise of the internet and social media, women bikers (or models pretending) frequently appeared in the media and fashion layouts. There, women riders have been depicted either as progressive icons, fashion accessories, or as the simplistic stereotype of the "biker mama."

Hear Me Roar looks at this phenomenon, debunking myths and looking at real women, past and present, who have taken to the open road on two wheels. More than 100 riders, racers, adventurers, historical figures, activists and even celebrities are shown within the contexts of women's independence, mobility, social and demographic trends in America.

Documentary filmmakers, museum curators, academics and others have referenced the book many times, and Ferrar was recognized with awards from the motorcycle industry.
First and second editions of Hear Me Roar are still available at Amazon.com and elsewhere. A new reprint or ebook edition may possibly be produced if enough people ask for it.


© Copyright 1990-2017, Ann Ferrar. All rights reserved. The viewpoints expressed here are those of the author. No part of this website (text and photos) may be reproduced or stored in any media and in any form without written permission from, and proper crediting of, the author.



Bessie Stringfield (1911-1993) is seen here with one of the 27 Harleys she rode over a 60-year riding career that took her around America eight times. Stringfield was also a civilian motorcycle courier for the army during World War II, carrying disptaches on the homefront. Her friend Ann Ferrar recorded Stringfield's oral history.

On the brink of America’s entry into World War I, New York society sisters Augusta and Adeline Van Buren rode Indian motorcycles across the continental US and into Mexico in 1916. Besides satisfying their wanderlust, the sisters proved that women could serve as military dispatch riders. Their journey was successful and was quite a feat on primitive bikes and roads. The headlights on their motorcycles were gas lamps lit with matches.

Actress Ann-Margret rode a classic Triumph T100, among the many bikes she owned. This photo was taken circa 1960s-1970s in Hollywood outside the studio where she was filming. She often rode to and from work.

Even into the 1990s, women were still few and far between on US motorcycle drag strips. Preparing for a heat, drag racer Lori Volmert does a burn-out on the rear tire of her Harley Sportster, melting the rubber to increase traction. That year, 1993, the first women's all-Harley drags were held during the 90th anniversary celebrations of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company in Wisconsin.

Adventurous Amy Mullins rode a heavy street cruiser from the Midwestern U.S., through the Canadian Yukon and into Alaska, navigating the rutted, muddy Alcan Highway. “I didn’t just want to see Alaska,” she said. “I wanted to ride it. The country reaches out and grabs you, especially on a bike.”

Women have a long history as motorcycle stunt riders. This billboard depicts a female stunt rider at an authentic, vintage, well-preserved "Wall of Death" motordrome at Daytona Bike Week, Florida. Indian motorcycles were most often used in the old motordromes.

Effie and Avis Hotchkiss were the first known mother-daughter duo to make a transcontinental motorcycle ride in 1915, aboard a Harley with a sidecar rig. Daughter Effie, who had worked on Wall Street, did the repairs herself.

PRESS REVIEWS


“A woman’s symphony on the road … [Hear Me Roar] is a celebration of the lives of all women who quietly and unobtrusively went against type and rode the icon of wild, throbbing power of the wildly free American male – the motorcycle.”
–Jed Stevenson, New York Times


“You may think of biker chic as a recent fad for women, but journalist Ferrar traces it back to 1910, when 18-year-old Clara Wagner beat most of her male competitors in a race from Chicago to Indianapolis. This celebration of female bikers is full of colorful history (in 1916, for example, the Van Buren sisters crossed the country on motorcycles with headlights that were lit with matches like gas lamps) and recent trivia (such as Entertainment Tonight’s Mary Hart donning leather for a charity ride). Ferrar covers racers and joyriders, clubs and rallies, and explains how women coming into their own in middle age often discover motorcycling while they’re rediscovering themselves. Hear Me Roar paints an exuberant picture of women who thrill to the sound of heavy-metal thunder.” –Margot Mifflin, Entertainment Weekly

On the cover: Long-time rider Denney Colt from Long Island, New York astride her Harley Low Rider.

Featured, top to bottom: Dot Robinson on her signature pink Harley touring bike; legendary Iron Butt endurance racer Fran Crane on her BMW; road racer Nancy Delgado rounds a corner on a modified Sportster; Bessie Stringfield dressed for a Sunday ride in her Iron Horse Motorcycle Club uniform; adventure rider Amy Mullins conquers the Alcan Highway, Alaska.