Monday, July 27, 2015

The Bicycle and the Woman

A portrait from the 1890s at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. Susan B. Anthony said cycling did more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. Credit National Museum of American History

In the late 1800s the bicycle transformed from the penny farthing, those impossibly high highwheelers, to something not too different from what we ride today—except it didn’t cost over $5,000.
Just imagine all you needed to go beyond your village was to put air in your tires. In one day you could go further than you could simply walking. And, you didn’t need a companion. It could be done solo without the help of a conductor or driver. It didn’t matter what color you were, class status (even today I see a lot of homeless on bikes), or gender. Suddenly women could become mobile.
Bicycles freed the woman.
“Myself plus the bicycle equaled myself plus the world,” wrote Frances Willard, a founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. As women took to the activity, they quickly realized that long skirts were a tangling hazard and that corsets compromised their aerobic capacity. Some began wearing split skirts or bloomers and loosened tops, while others shortened their hems.—from a recent NY Times article
Women were able to wander further and further afield.
Small wonder that Susan B. Anthony said of cycling, “I think it has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world.”
On July 23 I leave for a week of cycling. Minneapolis to Chicago. Check back to the blog the beginning of August for a trip report. I plan to use a combination of on-road and rail-to-trails connecting with friends in both Minneapolis and Milwuakee. Wish me a safe journey.

No comments: