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Sister of The Road

Updated on August 8, 2011

The Autobiography of Boxcar Bertha

"Sister of the Road: The Autobiography of Boxcar Bertha" by Dr. Ben Reitman is an excellent account of a woman raised as a hobo travelling by way of jumping trains. Her experiences of living among thieves, prostitutes, radicals, revolutionists, and vagrants are told in such rich detail that it is hard to believe that they are the fictional accounts of Dr. Ben Reitman’s own experiences and of those he had come in contact with throughout his life.


Boxcar Bertha takes on the roles of many of the people she comes in contact with as a thief, prostitute, radical, reformer, social worker, and a times a revolutionist. Her desire to learn everything about the underground world is only met with her desire to satisfy her wanderlust. This wanderlust prevents her from raising her own child for a number of years.


Eventually, through her experiences, she realizes that what she had learned about life and the underground world she had already known through travelling on boxcars long ago. She describes her knowledge as something a student could learn from a textbook.


Boxcar Bertha, in the end, realizes that real social change can only be done by changing the economic system. She uses her knowledge to begin a new journey towards implementing the beginnings of a revolution that would improve the lives of men and women hobos and the poor who are harmed by capitalist paradigms.


Robin Coe is a journalist and author. She wrote the fantasy novel "Fly on the Wall" and graphic novel "Illustrated Book of Wrath".


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