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When you think of the fight for women's rights you probably think of pivotal figures
such as Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, and Sojourner Truth.
But squarely in the center of this battle was one tool that completely changed the game.
Susan B. Anthony said that it did “more to emancipate women than anything else in
the world.”
That tool was … the bicycle?
To understand how, you first have to understand the bicycle craze of the late 1800s.
By the mid 19th century the “ordinary,” or penny-farthing, was the most common kind
of bicycle.
It was named that because its vastly different wheel sizes resembled the coin currency of
the day, a penny and a farthing.
You got it.
You may have seen examples of these in Victorian illustrations or at your local steampunk meetup.
Aside from looking completely ridiculous, these bikes were unwieldy, difficult to operate,
and actually super dangerous.
Because of the unstable center of gravity, hitting even the smallest bump in the road
could send a rider over the front in what was affectionately referred to as a “header.”
They were also difficult for women to ride.
It turns out it's virtually impossible to ride a penny-farthing while wearing the giant
hoop skirts that were in fashion at the time.
Then in 1885 a man came along named John Kemp Starley who said he “felt the time had arrived
for solving the problem of the cycle.”
He released his invention, the “Rover safety bicycle,” which was basically the first
incarnation of what we now consider the modern bicycle.
It had two 26-inch wheels, a diamond shaped frame, and a rear drive chain system.
Bikes became smaller, safer, and more practical — and guess what, America f***ing loved
Men and women alike flocked to these “noiseless steeds” in droves.
In 1897 alone, over 2 million bicycles were sold.
Even though these new modern bicycle designs were becoming enormously popular, and the
“drop frame” construction did make it safer and easier to ride, biking in a big,
flowing skirt still sucked.
At that time many women dressed in voluminous skirts with lots of slips underneath and ruffles
and that was not practical on a bicycle.
The new bicycle craze helped usher in a “rational dress movement” among women, which advocated
moving away from uncomfortable, restrictive dresses.
“Bloomers,” baggy undergarments that were more comfortable and practical than hoop skirts,
were popular in the 1850s.
With the growing popularity of bicycles though in the late 19th century, they came back with
a vengeance and were adopted by prominent suffragettes of the time.
These changes were threatening to some men though, and many viewed women wearing pants
as somehow depraved or immoral.
For some reason some men were not happy with the idea of women wearing bifurcated garments.
Doctors also chimed in, warning about potential health risks for female cyclists like depression,
heart palpitations, as well as something called “bicycle face,” which was said to cause
women to become “flushed,” “pale,” and could result in “dark shadows under
their eyes.”
Still, none of this deterred women.
In 1894, after hearing two wealthy Boston men bet $10,000 that a woman couldn't travel
around the globe on a bicycle, Annie Londonderry, a 5'3”, 100-pound housewife that had never
ridden a bike before, took on the challenge and with only a pearl handled revolver and
change of underwear, braved the desert, wars, and collisions with pigs on her journey around
the world, which she completed in 1895.
This mass adoption of bicycles significantly helped the feminist movement of the day.
It changed the modes of dress and gave women increased mobility, but more importantly it
gave them a sense of autonomy.
In 1890, just five years after the introduction of the safety bicycle, the National American
Woman Suffrage Association was formed with the express purpose of lobbying state to state
for women's right to vote.
Two of its founders Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are quoted as saying that "woman
is riding to suffrage on the bicycle.”
And that's exactly what they did in 1920.


How bicycles boosted the women's rights movement

197 タグ追加 保存
Samuel 2018 年 1 月 10 日 に公開
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