The Atlantic

How the Bicycle Paved the Way for Women's Rights

The technology craze of the 1890s meant fashion freedom and transportation independence.
Source: Corbis Historical / Getty

The bicycle, when it was still new technology, went through a series of rapid iterations in the 19th century before it really went mainstream. Designers toyed with different-sized front and back wheels, the addition of chains and cranks and pedals, and tested a slew of braking mechanisms.

By the 1890s, America was totally obsessed with the bicycle—which by then looked pretty much like the ones we ride today. There were millions of bikes on the roads and a new culture built around the technology. People started "wheelmen" clubs and competed in races. They toured the country and compared tricks and stunts.

The craze was meaningful, especially, for women. Both Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are credited with declaring that "woman is riding to suffrage on the bicycle," a line that was printed and reprinted in newspapers at the turn (Nebraska) , and replaced them with "some new woman, mounted on her steed of steel." And it gave women a new level of transportation independence that perplexed newspaper columnists across the country. :

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