March is National Women’s Month. Based partially on Women’s History, this came about in 1988. Reaching back to the turn of the century, women suffragettes- Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony attributed the bicycle to be the greatest influence on the emancipation of women.
Amelia Bloomer, the namesake of the 1800’s women’s pants that were often referred to as “Bloomers” made dress reform a major part of her work to move women from dresses and skirts to pants for bicycling.
Annie “Londenderry” Kopchovsky responded to a challenge by two men when they bet that no woman could encircle the globe on a bicycle while earning $5,000 along the way. She neither rode bike, nor was a advocate for women’s rights, yet she tackled this venture on a 42 lb. Columbia bicycle, taking 15 months to complete a round the globe trip starting and finishing in Boston, MA. Thus transformed, she became a spokesperson for both women’s rights and cycling. According to the New York World, she left an immeasurable impact on the attitudes about women.
Kittie Knox, a bi-racial seamstress, cyclist, and card carrying member of the League of American Wheelmen, caused a real uproar in 1894 after the League declared a color bar. Knox responded by getting on her bike, entering the racially segregated social space, and forcing the issue to be addressed. She broke ground for both blacks and women, challenging perceptions of both blacks and women.
Maria Ward wrote the guide book, “Bicycling for Ladies” in 1896. Ward’s goal in writing the guide was to free women from reliance on men for maintaining their bicycles. The emancipation that she provided broadened the notion of the mechanical abilities of women. certainly someone who had mastered domestic mechanical skills such as sewing, could conquer the bike maintenance world, held distinctly by men at the time. Her opinion is summed up in the statement she made, ” I hold that any woman who is able to use a needle and scissors can use other tools equally well.”
In 1928, five women rode from New York to Washington, D.C. in three days! Marylou Jackson, Velma Jackson, Ethyl Miller, Leolya Nelson, and Constance White completed the 250 mile trek. While it is safe to assume that they had some time in the saddle, were physically in good shape, they confidently made their way. The first day they rode 110 miles to Philadelphia. The second they rode 40 miles to Wilmington< DE. The third day they rode 100 miles to Washington, D.C. How impressive is that!
During the first half of the 20th Century, Katherine Hepburn stood out as a dedicated cyclist. In her youth she rode around town regularly. She rode around the Warner Brothers lot, as well as pretty much everywhere she went. She rode most days after working a rigorous early portion of her day. Hepburn lived to be a healthy 96 yrs old due to her active lifestyle!
Joining the League of American Bicyclists in 1937, Phyllis Harmon as a member of the Evanston Bicycle Toruing Club. She published the league’s bulletin/newsletter. She became the first payed employee of the League in 1972 and the executive director until 1975. She has been indicted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame. She is considered to be the Grand Dame of Chicago Cycling.
During World War II, Ellen Fletcher escaped Germany and worked in a factory in London. She biked to her job everyday. Moving on to Palo Alto, CA she became a tireless advocate for bicycle infrastructure improvements. She worked on the first bike lanes leading a fight to establish green lanes to connect schools, parks, and neighborhoods in the city. She pioneered the first bike boulevard in the U.S.in 1973 as chairperson for the Citizen’s Technical Advisory Committee on bicycling.
Since the late 1990’s, Deb Hubsmith came into the national spotlight as the founder and director of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. She stepped into this role after losing her car in a crash. She swore she would never buy another. She went on to build the national partnership, starting in her hometown of Marin, CA.
Many other women have exacted influence on the social and physical fabric of our world. Hoping that with insights into what these women have done for cycling in the U.S., you may be inspired in some way.
Today, approximately 45 million women ride at least one or more times throughout the year, as compared to 59 million men. Twenty-nine million women ride strictly for recreation. About three million ride fro transportation. Fourteen and a half million ride for both recreation and transportation. More women ride that also have children, 32% versus 19% of women without children. Interestingly, fewer women than men have a working bicycle available to them at home. (55% of men versus 47% of women). Boys and girls start out riding equally as often at the age of 10, but by the time they reach 55, the gap really widens, women really falling off where riding is concerned. Overall, though, women ride way more than what might be more commonly perceived as compared with men. People for Bikes, 2015) Women now have taken over as the fastest growing segment of bicycle sales in many markets.