Marion Barbara ‘Joe’ Carstairs (1900 -1993) was a wealthy British power boat racer known for her speed and her eccentric lifestyle. She was a cross-dressing woman who ordered tailored Savile Row suits and kept a picture of every woman she slept with. She never let a woman remain for the entire night, but seemed to like to move on!
She was born into a military family, her father was Albert Carstairs, a Captain in the Princess of Wale’s Own (Yorkshire Regiment). The captain and his wife divorced before Joe was born. She went on to marry Captain Francis Francis and had two more children. Alcohol and drugs plagued Joe’s mother. She divorced Francis and married French Count Roger de Perigny in 1915 but left him because of his infidelity. She married her fourth husband, a Russian-French surgeon. On this marrying and divorcing must have had effect on Joe and her half-brother and half- sister.
Joe is Forced to Marry
Joe married a childhood friend, French aristocrat Count Jacques de Pret on January 7, 1918. Joe was eighteen years of age. It was an arranged marriage for Joe to access her trust fund independently of her mother. After her mother’s death, the marriage was immediately annulled on the grounds of non-consummation. A great indication that Joe was a lesbian. By means of a Deed pool in 1922, Joe renounced her married name and resumed using the name Carstairs.
Joe had a series of lesbian affairs with women who were often in the public eye: Greta Garbo, Tallulah Bankhead and Marlene Dietrich. She usually dressed as a man. Her arms were tattooed and she was fascinated with machines. The love of adventure and speed led her to be an accomplished speed boat racer.
Living in Gay Paris
She lived in Paris with Dolly Wilde, who drove an ambulance in World War I. Joe had done the same driving ambulances in France with the American Red Cross.
After the war, she served with the Royal Army Service Corps in France, re-burying the war-dead, and in Dublin with the Women’s Legion Mechanical Transport Section, which acted as transport for British officers during the Irish War of Independence.
In 1920, with three former colleagues from the Women’s Legion Mechanical Transport Section, she started the ‘X Garage,’ a car-hire and chauffeuring service that featured a women-only staff of drivers and mechanics. The garage was sited near Cromwell Gardens.
Carstairs (and her friends and lovers) lived in a flat above the garage.
Several of the X-Garage staff had served as drivers during the war and spoke French, German or Italian. The cars and drivers could be hired for long-distance trips and the business specialized in taking grieving relatives for visits to war-graves and former battlefields in France and Belgium. They were also hired for journeys within London and the garage had an arrangement with the Savoy Hote for taking guests to the theater or to shows. During the early 1920s, X-Garage cars were a familiar sight in London’s fashionable circles.
In 1925, X-Garage closed and Carstairs inheriting a fortune through her mother and grandmother from Standard Oil.. She also purchased her first motor boat and also given a Steiff doll by a girlfriend, Ruth Baldwin, naming it Lord Tod Wadley. She became exceptionally attached to this doll, keeping it with her until her death
Between 1925 and 1930, Carstairs spent considerable time in powerboats and became a very successful racer, although the Harmsworth Trophy she longed for always eluded her. She did take the Duke of York’s trophy and establish herself as the fastest woman on water.
Intrigued by the hydrofoil designs of Alexander Graham Bell and Casey Baldwin in Nova Scotia, Canada, Carstairs ordered a 30 foot hydrofoil boat. It was intended to achieve 115 mph and capture the Harmsworth Cup. However circumstances caused her to withdraw and the boat was completed with a more economical engine delivering 57 mph. When not racing, Carstairs sponsored others She paid $10,000 of her money to fund the building of one of theBlue Bird land speed record cars for Sir Malcolm Campbell. Malcolm described her as”the greatest sportsman I know.”
Reclusive Island Living
Why not own your own island particularly if you inherit a fortune from Standard Oil? At the age of 34, Carstairs bought Whale Cay, a 9 mile by 4 mile island in the Bahamas. It was a quiet retreat when needed, but it also allowed her to party without the press bothering her. She lived here for 40 years with a parade of beautiful women, sports fans and important guests such as Marlene Dietrich and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. She constructed a great house and also a light house, school, church and cannery. She later expanded into buying additional islands of Bird Cay, Cat Cay, Devil’s Cay and half of Hoffman’s Cay.
After selling Whale Cay in 1975, Carstairs relocated to Miami, Florida.She died in Naples, Florida, in 1993. Lord Tod Wadley (her doll) was cremated with her.