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Women on Wheels
May 13, 2017 –
When women and girls first rode bicycles in large numbers in the 1890s, they celebrated their new freedom to move around in the world. Susan B. Anthony said she stood and rejoiced, “every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” She thought bicycling had “done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” Is it surprising that conservatives panicked at visions of women riding alone, with other women, or with unsuitable men, and campaigned to stop them?
Bicycling women wanted to keep their new mobility, and there were plenty of arguments back and forth. Some claimed that women would damage themselves by acquiring a “bicycle face,” or would get sexual pleasure from bicycling — and thus ruin their reproductive capacities. Although this seems like something that happened long ago, women, especially, are often still discouraged from physical activity and mobility in the US and in other countries. How did that happen? Could bicycling again offer freedom to all?