A NeW Kind of History Lesson: Women and Bicycles

July 20, 2010 | NeW Staff

Bicycles were first introduced in America in 1878. This new way of transportation intrigued women but there was one small complication-what to wear?!? Or more seriously, could women ride bicycles?

Quickly, doctors came up with theories that riding bicycles was an unhealthy practice for fragile women. Their current way of dressing could easily get caught up in the mechanics of the bike and create potential injury.

In an article from the Ladies’ Standard Magazine, April 1894 , women were encouraged not to eat too much before riding, that a full wool outfit should be worn to prevent a cold during any season (yes, including summer), and was compared to both operating a sewing machine and walking.

“Cycling calls for activity, alertness, accuracy, and grace in the upper portions of the body, but in no place is there an undue strain.”

In addition to heath concerns, many men also feared the independence that bicycles would bring women. 

So, what was the solution? By 1894, the adaptable dress was created so women could go from proper lady appropriate to bicycle riding appropriate. You can look at the picture above to see how ankle belts were added to the skirt in order to create ‘bloomers’ when riding the bicycle.

Men eventually gave in and didn’t make the issue of women bicycling as big of a deal as it initially was. Women were gaining independence in many different areas at this time, building steam to eventually band together for the Women’s Suffrage movement.

Who knew bicycles played such a role in Women’s History?

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