Woman on a bicycle from the Library of Congress. [Image: www.nwhm.org/blog/pedaling-the-path-to-freedom-american-women-on-bicycles]
Okay, so we’re a little late celebrating Women’s History Month, but bear with us as we recognize some pretty awesome female cyclists that helped pave the path for women today. We see examples of how women are making a name for themselves in the great outdoors
all the time now, but in a time when women were encouraged to remain inside their homes, the advent of the bicycle helped slowly change standards. Cycling was a significant part of the women’s civil rights movement, so it seems especially important to recognize some of the women responsible for creating the cycling world we live in today.
Elsa von Blumen
Bicycle Racer Elsa von Blumen on an “Ordinary” or Penny-farthing bike. [Image: www.democratandchronicle.com/story/sports/2014/11/06/elsa-von-blumen-rocjocks/18562637]
Elsa was particularly impressive as she was one of very few early American bicycle racers. She raced on the Ordinary bicycle (also known as the Penny-farthing), which had a relatively high crash rate. This didn’t deter Elsa, however, as she raced against other women, men, and even horses on roads and specially designed tracks. She rode a 1,000-mile marathon through Pittsburgh in six days and even rode without a partner in a 51-hour, 367-mile race against competitors that took turns riding. Elsa also recognized the importance of exercise and was a tremendous role model for women and young girls at a crucial time of the suffrage movement.
Annie “Londonderry” Cohen Kopchovsky
Annie “Londonderry” Cohen Kopchovsky on her Safety bicycle. [Image: smartbitchestrashybooks.com/2015/01/kickass-women-in-history-annie-londonderry]
The cycling craze really caught on in the 1890s and especially picked up traction with the invention of the “Safety” bicycle, which is the same style that bicycles today are modeled after. With this new development, women were able to get a taste for freedom as they broke away from the housewife/homemaker molds and ventured out on their new bikes. Clothing styles changed from confining corsets, hoop skirts, and heels to more comfortable bloomers and shoes, transforming women of the time into “The New Woman.” Annie took it a few steps further and wore a male riding suit, which shocked and horrified many bystanders. Bikes also meant that women wouldn’t rely on men for transportation anymore. These advances were met with plenty of resistance, but in the end, women on bicycles were triumphant.
Frances Willard learning to ride a bike in her 50s. [Image: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/96/A_wheel_within_a_wheel_page_56.jpg]
Leader of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and avid adventurer
, Frances hopped on a bike for the first time in her 50s and taught herself to ride within two days. She never enjoyed the idea of having to stay inside and opposed the confining clothing forced on her once she turned 16, preferring to climb, horseback ride, and run instead. It only makes sense that this bold woman would take to bike riding so quickly and seamlessly!
Susan B. Anthony & Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. [Image: www.wondersandmarvels.com/2011/06/a-friendship-that-changed-the-world.html]
Although neither was a cyclist themselves (as they were well into their 70s when the Safety bike was invented), both Susan and Elizabeth embraced females on bikes with open arms. Plus, you can’t talk about the women’s civil rights movement without mentioning these two suffragists! Susan was quoted as saying, “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.” Elizabeth held a similar mindset, stating that “the bicycle will inspire women with more courage, self-respect, self-reliance…” Well said, ladies!
Maria Ward’s book “Bicycling for Ladies.” [Image: wheelbike.blogspot.com/2010/12/blog-post.html]
Author of the 1896 instructional manual Bicycling for Ladies
, Maria wrote this groundbreaking book with a distinct approach that made her piece stand out from similar works released at the same time. She created a manual for advanced female cyclists, urging women to learn the mechanics of their bikes and become well acquainted with the various tools that went along with them. Maria compared bike tools to sewing instruments, saying that if a woman could sew then she could certainly learn the intricacies of her bike. She outlined practical biking clothing and other details of bikes that weren’t typically shared with women. In a time that discouraged women from challenging their minds and bodies, Maria stood face-to-face with that idea and disregarded it.
Billie Fleming on her bicycle. [Image: www.cyclingweekly.co.uk/news/latest-news/billie-fleming-passes-away-age-100-123454]
In 1938, Billie set a record that still stands today as the most miles biked in a year by a woman, clocking in at 29,603.7 miles. She rode to promote the health benefits of cycling and biked in the winter
, summer, rain, and shine. She biked approximately 81 miles a day and reached up to 196 miles a day in the summer! Although her plans to bike across the United States fell through due to WWII, she went on to break the 25-mile, 50-mile, and 100-mile tricycle records. Now that’s inspiring!
Beryl Burton racing. [Image: totalwomenscycling.com/lifestyle/interviews/21-facts-beryl-burton-30397]
Although more modern than the other female saddle-blazers above, no list about impressive female cyclists is complete without mentioning Beryl Burton. After being introduced to cycling by her husband in 1955, she dominated as a cyclist and was the winner of the Road Time Trials Council British Best All-Rounder Competition for 25 years in a row spanning from 1959 until 1983. She won 72 national individual time trial titles, 24 national titles in road and track racing, and set over 50 national records. Her 12-hour record still stands today, and she even surpassed the man’s 12-hour time trial record in 1967 for two years. In 1967, Beryl had the rare honor of being the first woman invited to compete in the Grand Prix des Nations, finishing mere seconds behind her fellow competitors. Beryl achieved all this as a “hobby” and remained an amateur throughout her career, refusing any sponsorship opportunities. Her accomplishments are astounding and will definitely motivate you to embrace the coming warm weather!
After reading all this, you’ve got to be feeling inspired and have the familiar desire to hop onto your bike and head onto the nearest road or trail. Check out our Gear Store for any of your cycling needs, and celebrate the strides women have made since the 1890s from your saddle!