Women on Bicycles

Women on Bicycles

The following newspaper article appeared in 1888, the same leap year in which Sophia’s Leap-Year Courtship is set. One of Sophia’s behaviors of which the newspaperman takes such offense to is her riding of her bicycle all about Evanston, Wyoming, flashing her petticoat ruffles, her ankles, and behaving in a less-than-ladylike manner. Where did I get the idea for newspapermen causing trouble for a decent woman who happened to like her bicycle more than a horse? From real, historic newspaper accounts.

I rather enjoy the research component of preparing for a book. Once I saw comments like these, I knew one of Sophia’s nemesis had to be a newspaper reporter who had the freedom to say what he would. From numerous accounts such as this, the bicycle craze may have been acceptable for men, but for women? Bicycle riding wasn’t only immoral, bike-riding would lead to every known disease, tragedy, and spiritual decay known to womankind.

Note that the bicycles, by 1888 (setting for Sophia’s Leap-Year Courtship), were termed “Safety Bicycles“, with two wheels of the same size and significantly safer than the enormous front-wheel models (with an itty-bitty back wheel)–who could stay upright on one of those?

Image from 1904 Dictionary of Technology showing an 1880 bicycle on the left and an 1886 rover on the right. Image: Public Domain, courtesy of Wikipedia.

BICYCLES FOR WOMEN

Bicycles for Women, Part 1. The Indiana Democrat of Indiana, Pennsylvania on April 5, 1888.

Bicycles for Women, Part 2. The Indiana Democrat of Indiana, Pennsylvania on April 5, 1888.

Bicycles for Women, Part 3. The Indiana Democrat of Indiana, Pennsylvania on April 5, 1888.

Bicycles for Women, Part 4. The Indiana Democrat of Indiana, Pennsylvania on April 5, 1888.

WOMEN ON BICYCLES = IMMORAL, VULGAR, DISEASE-RIDDEN, UNWOMANLY

A Public Service Announcement from 1896. Image courtesy of Forgotten Stories.

To Whom It May Concern:

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At a Regular meeting of the Woman’s Rescue League, held June 29, 1896, the following whereases and resolutions were passed:

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Whereas, the alarming increase of immorality among young women in the United States is most startling to those who have investigated the subject of disease and vice.

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Whereas, a great curse has been inflicted on the people of this country because of the present bicycle craze, and if a halt is not called soon, 75 per cent of the cyclists will be an army of invalids within the next ten years.

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Whereas, disease among the young women is most appalling because of the imprudent use of the bicycle, by bringing the diseases peculiar to women. Furthermore, immoderate bicycling by young women is to be deplored because of the evil associations and opportunities offered cycling sports.

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Whereas, bicycling by young women has helped swell the ranks of reckless girls who finally drift into the standing army of outcast women of the United States more than any other medium.

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Whereas, “Bicycle run for Christ” by the so called Christians should be properly termed “Bicycle run for Satan” for the bicycle is the devil’s advocate agent morally and physically in thousands of instances; therefore be it

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Resolved, that the Woman’s Rescue League denounces bicycle riding by young women because of producing immoral suggestions and imprudent associations both in language and dress which have a tendency to make women not only unwomanly, but immodest as well.

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Resolved, that married women should not resort to riding the wheel unless they wish to prevent motherhood; and be it further

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Resolved, that the Woman’s Rescue league petition all true women and clergymen to aid in denouncing the present bicycle craze by women as indecent and vulgar; and be it further

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Resolved, that copies of these resolutions be sent where they will do the most effective good for the cause of purity and morality.

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Charlotte Smith,

President, Woman’s Rescue League, Washington D.C.

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Virginia N. Lount,

Secretary, Legislation Committee

[Source: Forgotten Stories] (bold typeface added for emphasis)

Where have we seen Mrs. Charlotte Smith before? Oh, that’s right…wanting to force marriage upon the unmarried. Same woman? Yes–look at the connection as President of the Woman’s Rescue League, Washington D.C.

GRANDMAS ON BICYCLES–APPALLING!

The Times of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 26, 1895.

(Part 2) The Times of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 26, 1895.

THE GENTLE ART OF CYCLING

Cycling has found its legitimate place at last; it is as the gentle art. Women and elderly men h ave done much to raise cycling to the Gentle Art. It is a companion to the solitary, a friend that is always exhilarating and never selfish, an aid to reflection; it gives inspiration to the poet, health and strength to the plain man, vigour to the man of science, and breadth to the philosopher. [sic] (Macmillan’s Magazine, 1898)  ~ Quoted by Manners and Morals of Victorian America by Wayne Erbsen, page 12.

SOPHIA SORENSEN ON HER SAFETY BICYCLE

Sophia Sorensen, “Lady Lawyer” and heroine of my soon-to-be released title Sophia’s Leap-Year Courtship, rode a newfangled safety bicycle rather than behave like a genteel lady–and walk, or drive a little lady’s buggy with one horse when she must. Some people in the railroad town of Evanston, Wyoming Territory, didn’t think twice. But others–such as Sophia’s nemesis, the newspaperman Thomas Fisher–took umbrage to her unladylike, flagrant disregard for propriety. How dare she ride a bicycle on the streets of Evanston? (I’m giggling. A twenty-first century woman thinks this “women should not be on bicycles” attitude as positively absurd!)

The following snippet is an article (straight from my fiction title) that Thomas Fisher (my fictional character) published in the historically accurate newspaper, The Uinta Chieftain.

From The Uinta Chieftain of Evanston, Wyoming Territory, on Thursday, November 1, 1888:

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LADY LAWYER’S MACHINE PUT UP FOR WINTER?

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Is it possible Evanston’s Lady Lawyer has retired her safety bicycle for the winter months? She, Miss Sophia Amelia Sorensen, was seen walking to her law office twice this past week, rather than riding astride. To what do the citizens of Evanston owe this remarkable change in behavior? To the four inches of new snow Mother Nature granted?

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Last winter’s uncommon snow accumulation and the resultant ice, lack of traction, and risk must have contributed to Miss Sorensen’s decision to put up her machine. Many city residents voiced the opinion that the bicycle should not be seen speeding past their front windows as spring and summer arrived, but alas, it was not to be.

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While Jack Frost has yet to make his official seasonal return, The Presbyterian Ladies’ League suggests Miss Sorensen relegate her bicycle to the attic as to keep her ankles and petticoat hem properly covered in the sight of their husbands, brothers, and sons.

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[Source: Sophia’s Leap-Year Courtship, Chapter Four]

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Victorian Dancing Etiquette Photograph of a Hero–on SweetRomanceReads.com New Release: Sophia’s Leap-Year Courtship; Mail-Order Bride Romance, with a Twist! Bicycle built for Two Victorian Bicycling Etiquette Introducing the Real Sophia Amelia Sorensen…and her cookie jar Book Description: Sophia’s Leap-Year Courtship Victorian Lady Lawyers–on Sweet Americana Sweethearts Old Fashioned Notions about Marriageable Women Victorian Attitudes About Female Education, and Conflict in the Historical Romances we Love! Charlotte Smith Demands National Legislation to Require Matrimony

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Copyright © 2017 Kristin Holt LC
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