A Bumpy Bike Ride to Equal Rights

April 1st, 2011

File this under: We had no idea. We just learned that the invention and widespread popularity of bicycles at the turn of the century played a big part in the liberation of women.

Over at Brain Pickings, Maria Popova alerted us to a new National Geographic book called “Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom,” which explores how bikes allowed young women to socialize unchaperoned—and led to changes in fashion that released them from the restrictive Victorian corsets and hoop skirts. Naturally, they faced, um, steep hills and potholes along the way (i.e.  fears of women becoming too overtly man-like, wearing pants, and smoking cigars).

The book is full of archival photographs, magazine clippings, in-depth research, and wonderful quotes like this one: “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.” — Susan B. Anthony, 1896

This is definitely one for my wish list! I might even be inspired to go air up my tires and take a ride this spring weekend.

(Image: (c) Beth Emery Collection | via Sarah Goodyear / Grist.org)

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