A lesbian named Joe Carstairs: The fastest woman on water
Joe Carstairs seemed like a flamboyant dream figure: rich, dashing, a speedboat champion, and adventurer who owned an island.
But there was more to her than that: Carstairs was also an out-and-out lesbian who drove an ambulance during the First World War in France for the American Red Cross.
She was the one who called herself ‘Joe,’ and lived a life that few of us could only dream of.
Who was Joe Carstairs?
Born Marion Barbara Carstairs in Mayfair, London in England in 1900, Joe was the daughter of Frances Evelyn Bostwick, an American heiress of the original trustees of Standard Oil.
As Joe described herself, she was “never a little girl. I came out of the womb queer.”
Unfortunately, she didn’t get along with her mother, who was mired in drugs and alcohol most of the time.
Her mother also had a lot of partners, like Joe’s legal father Scottish army officer Captain Albert Carstairs. There was also the French count Roger de Périgny and the Russian-French surgeon Serge Voronoff.
However, Joe idolized her grandmother, Nellie Bostwick, who she described as “rough, tough, she wanted her own way. She was a wonderful person… She had great power.”
Joe Carstairs’ life and loves
Joe got her grandmother to let her join the American Red Cross at the age of 16 to drive ambulances in the First World War.
At the age of 17, she moved to Paris and encountered the bohemian crowd, which was where she met and became infatuated with Dolly Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s niece.
Joe described sex with Dolly this way: “My God, what a marvellous thing. I found it a great pity I’d waited so long.”
She had so many girlfriends, she had an album containing 120 pictures of them. Her mother was scandalized when she heard of Joe’s affairs and threatened to disinherit her if she didn’t marry.
In response, she married a childhood friend, the French Count Jacques de Pret, on 7 January 1918 in Paris. However, both went on their own separate ways after the wedding.
When her mother died, they had the marriage annulled on the grounds of non-consummation. By this time, Joe was now a rich woman.
Joe Carstairs’ adventures
With her money, she set up a fleet of Daimlers and set up a chauffeur company run entirely by women called X Garage with the help of the ambulance drivers she met in France and Dublin.
After her grandmother died, Joe became even richer and started commissioning fast motorboats, winning the prestigious Duke of York’s Trophy, the Royal Motor Yacht Club international race, and the Lucina Cup.
She said of her passion: “I liked the boats. I liked the way they behaved. I understood them.”
When she failed to win the even more prestigious Harmsworth British International Trophy, she decided to exit the scene and permanently transferred to the Whale Cay, an island in the Bahamas, to become its iconic ruler.
There, she entertained celebrities and even royalty like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. It was also there that she started her affair with movie star Marlene Dietrich.
The people who lived on the island called her ‘The Boss’ and Joe once said: “I was a leader. I could do anything.”
She eventually sold her island in 1975 and relocated to Miami, Florida.
But despite having a lot of lovers, she preferred the company of a small doll dressed in Savile Row suits and Italian slippers that she called ‘Lord Tod Wadley.’
When Carstairs died in December 18, 1993, she had herself cremated together with the doll and their ashes buried together.