"Bicycling 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.
It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance."
Susan B. Anthony (1896)
The Golden Age of Bicycling
It's the 1890's, now referred to as the "Golden Age of Bicycling". A time of revolution, both in personal transportation, and in women's rights. As bicycles became safer and cheaper, everyone began to cycle, including women. Victorian dresses, with their restrictive corsets and long heavy skirts were the fashion of the day. The invention of the drop-frame safety bicycle, with two equal size wheels, allowed women to sit closer to the the ground, and provided room for their heavy victorian gowns. Respectable women began to take up cycling without risk of injury or scandal.
The bicycle gave women unprecedented mobility. Nineteenth-century feminists and suffragists refered to the bike as a "freedom machine" for women. The opportunity to exercise, coupled with the freedom to move about independently was very appealing for a generation of women who had become frustrated with the limitations placed on their clothing, as well as their personal freedoms.
As more women began to ride, they looked for more practical clothing. So tight were their corsetts, women often fainted from a lack of air. Petticoats worn by fashionable women weighed as much as 9 pounds, often more. The desire to have more practical clothing for cycling, started a fashion revolution that would forever change women's apparel.
The Move To "Rational Dress"
Amelia Jenks Bloomer, a social reformer, discovered a loose pair of trousers designed especially for women by Elizabeth Smith Miller. Ms Smith's turkish pantaloons, and knee length skirt were popularized by Amelia Bloomer in her monthly temperance paper called "The Lily". The pants were named "bloomers" after Amelia.
By 1896, one third of all American cyclists were women. The "rational dress" movement picked up speed, and by the end of 1890s, corsets were loosened, skirt hems were raised, and even non-cycling women began to wear this bold new style of clothing.
If you enjoyed this small bit of history and would like to learn more, check out the following articles:
Spin Cities- When Urban America Fell In Love With The Bike
Rational Dress Reform Fashion History - Ms Bloomer
Wheel of Fortune: Frances Willard Discovers the Bicycle
Did you know that the world's first international female sports star was a Jewish mother from Boston?
Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, rode a bicycle around the world in 1894, on a bet, and became a feminist celebrity.
Image from Annielondonerry.com