Becca Rose
June 03, 2017 8:40 am
Shutterstock

Pop quiz time – break out your best women’s suffrage knowledge! What did Susan B. Anthony give credit to for liberating women? Aside from the efforts of actual suffragette movement, it was…the bicycle. That innovation opened the door for all sorts of women’s rights.

The first bicycles were unstable and dangerous. Sure, they looked cool – the “penny farthing” is a great look – but those giant wheels made crashing almost inevitable. Women couldn’t ride easily either. Have you ever tried to ride a bike while in a skirt? Just imagine that plus more skirts plus huge imbalanced wheels and bumpy cobblestone streets.

This video from Vox tells the full story.

But that all changed when a man (yeah yeah, just stick with us though) named John Kemp Starley invented the safety bicycle. This innovation made bikes easier to operate and safer to ride. “Safety bicycle” was meant quite literally. It looked a lot more like the bikes we see today. Basically, it increased the average person’s ability to use the bicycle as an actual transportation method.

It was still hard for women to straddle a seat in skirts, but luckily, bloomers came back into style. Men thought women in pants were a threat – they even got doctors to warn against women riding bikes to prevent it! “Bicycle face” was apparently a real danger if a women were to learn to ride a bike. It would make her unattractive, basically? So like, an extremely old fashioned version of “if you make that face you’ll get stuck in it,” but for…riding bikes.

Women, however, are fond of persisting.

The first woman to ride a bicycle around the world was Annie Londonderry in 1895. She did it in response to a bet a few businessmen publicized to prove that women couldn’t do it! And after Annie came more and more women using the bicycle as both a transportation method, and a key to their own independence.

So now, when you’re riding a bike you can feel connected to the women of the past who used their bicycles to help get us lots of basic rights.

Advertisement