By oldhamdei76735407, Sep 15 2016 01:56PM
"I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world, I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood." - Susan B. Anthony, 1896.
The latter part of the 19th century was a time of great change. American was in th midst of the industrial revolution, the suffrage effort was in full swing, the separation of labor between men and women was being redefined, and woman were dicovering the joy of bikes.
A relatively affordable and accessible peice of technology, bikes gave women the ability to leave the house more easily. According to Sue Macy, author of "Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom, “when women rode bicycles, they weren’t confined to the home. They were creating public personas, and back then, that was not the norm for women to have a public life. It was definitely a plus to be able to be in the world, to be more connected to life outside the home.”
One of the more controversial effects of women riding bikes was that they traded their skirts and petticoats for bloomers. Women would ride their bikes in City Hall Park in New York City, and wear bloomers while doing so. However, if they were still wearing bloomers when they left th park they would often times have rocks thrown at them. A woman wearing what were basically pants was scandalous in the late 1800's, so some women would bring a change of clothes so that they could make it home without being attacked.
Bicycles gave even more freedom to African-American women. During a time when some streetcars prohibited black women from ladies' cars, bicycles gave these women the ability to get where they needed to go, despite the racist rules that tried to hold them back.
Of course there were people that didn't think women should be riding bikes. Charlotte Smith fought hard for women's rights in the workplace. She created the first directory of women-owned businesses and had a habit of hitting men over the head with an umbrella whenever she saw one being disrespectful to a woman. However, she thought that women cyclists were going straight to hell and opening themselves up to physical and moral attacks by men. She even went so far as to start an organization to fight against women riding bikes.
It's been 120 years since Susan B. Anthony made her quote about women on bikes, and bicycles are still changing the lives of women. Women in the Middle East are getting on their bikes and finding a little bit of freedom and independence. Afghanistan’s National Women’s Cycling Team was recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
One of the riders said that “People are watching us from behind our backs, it is horrifying” and another adds: “Some people believe women are meant only to stay at home, and all they can do is cook food and do housework. They say a bicycle can destroy a girl’s future. People say a lot of things. If we listened to them we would never leave our houses”.
Lorie Mertes, director of public programs at the National Museum of Women in the Arts said, “The bicycle is a designed object and it’s one that has changed so little in terms of its basic machinery and design over those 120 years — and yet its impact remains incredibly relevant and powerful today, especially for women.”