Maciej Jarzębski, 2rok 2stopnia Praca zaliczeniowa wykładu monograficznego

Victorian wheels of change
Susan B. Anthony, a suffragist and a prominent American civil rights leader, once said, "Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world." However ridiculous it might sound, a revolutionary invention of the bicycle played, undoubtedly, a significant role in the early stage of women’s liberation. Christopher Connolly, an American investigative journalist, in one of his articles describes the situation of the Victorian women as follows, “Susan and her fellow 19th-century women had been severely trammeled their entire lives. Forget the glass ceiling; women in those days were trapped under the glass floor” ( It goes without saying that the liberty of women in those days was snatched out of their hands and deliberately denied. While men became breadwinners, middle class women were confined to the four walls of a household. As for lower class women, they were more familiar with the world of work, but it was not the kind of life that women might dream of. Women sought emancipation in various spheres of life. The invention of the bicycle appeared to be the right tool to fight for their cause. For people of the western world, the Victorian Era was a time of rapid economic growth and significant social changes. Late in the 19th century, “with the beginning of the industrial revolution came a new era of a rising middle class and for the first time many people had a lifestyle which included a certain amount of leisure time” ( The upper and middle classes engaged themselves in various recreational activities such as croquet, roller skating, horseback riding or bicycling. The blossoming social scene created favourable conditions not only for mixing of social classes, but also for mingling between men and women to some extent. The social roles of men and women were clearly defined by a rigid class system as well as sex. “While working class women toiled in factories the upper class ladies of the day were considered to be the fair sex, or the gentle sex” ( The arrival of the first internal combustion engine was a remarkable breakthrough, but a bit earlier the inventive minds of the 19 th century developed yet another groundbreaking invention – the bicycle. It is claimed that “bicycles, introduced in Europe around 1863, were

com). which provided improved gearing making the bicycle faster. With the establishment of the chain driven rear wheel and reduction gearing the wheel sizes became smaller.wordpress. which was the next step in the evolution of the bicycle. Unfortunately. especially in cosmopolitan cities like New different methods of propulsion were but inventors found it particularly difficult to get around the hoopskirt issue. The major change concerned the position of the rider .wordpress. Moreover. This machine was primarily designed for men and their entertainment. women had to wait for nearly twenty years for their chance to participate in the activity of bicycling. The gradual acceptance of female cyclists started with the invention of tricycle. “One of the greatest developments in bicycle ingenuity came in the late 1870’s with the invention of the ‘Safety Bicycle’. the “Ordinary” or “Penny Farthing” appeared. “As the bicycle evolved further. The bicycle manufacturers came up with an idea to create a machine that would allow women to ride in skirts and corsets preserving their dignity. Then. prices dropped and bicycles became available to a progressively larger segment of society (http://crankedmag. Its design was distinguished by a large front wheel. the heavy structure of the tricycle as well as restrictive clothing limited women whenever they wanted to go farer and ride faster. In order to solve this dilemma. which was the two wheeled walking machine. many experimental designs were developed. Since then the development of the bicycle fuelled the excitement of the or London. In practical terms. Only a few attempts were made to adapt this unlikely design to women’s dress. Paris.the first democratic means of Karl von Drais invented his Draisienne. Because of this male-oriented design of the Ordinary. “The Ordinary functioned by way of a front wheel direct drive and was designed to allow for the largest front wheel that a man could straddle so that the machine could cover as much ground as possible with each pedal revolution” (http://crankedmag. The booming market for bicycles started expanding in different directions. it was not until the 1890s that a lady could go for a ride alone without any male companion ( opening up many new possibilities in design” (http://crankedmag. They became extremely fashionable. The Safety Bicycle was named for its relatively safe design compared to the Ordinary which perched the rider on top of a large wheel high in the air” (http://crankedmag. Due to increased production and a competitive market. Along with the 1890's came the "Golden Age of bicycles” and by the mid 1890s the great bicycle boom was in full swing. bicycles eliminated the reliance on the horse and buggy” (http://thebicyclecritic. which provided women with opportunity to ride the machine in their complete attire.wordpress. In 1817.wordpress.

cnn. which also enhanced the ability of women to ride. In order to avoid entangling in the bike’s chain. Despite all of the efforts to stop .. at last became a viable fashion option for women (http://articles. The Victorian lady before the arrival of the bicycle boom rarely exercised or engaged in physical “Women and bicycles proved to be a winning combination. when coupled with long and heavy underskirts. one of the first women to ride a bike in London. women struggled for their right to ride a bicycle at all. which. exaggerating the female form while concealing the flesh. These were the two major technological advancement in the development of bicycle ( It was truly revolutionary. As the new transportation possibility for women appeared.suite101. (. and this debate continued until the early 1890s. Unfortunately. One of them concerned what clothing they should ride in (http://crankedmag. after several years of struggle for their acceptance. “The fashion for women at that time tended toward helplessness and The frailty of a ‘lady’ was such that preventing females from studying. Another great development in bicycle ingenuity. Emma Eades.wordpress. therefore. Convincing society that women should be allowed to ride a bike was not an easy task.wordpress. greatly limited women's ability to move or even breathe” ( bloomers in the 1880s. they established a “rational dress” movement. “Female cyclists were often accosted verbally and physically as they rode. Due to the bicycle boom. Susan B. “Their garments were typically thick.who sit between two equally sized wheels closer to the ground. because it allowed people from virtually all walks of life to enjoy this pleasant and healthful exercise. women needed to wear shorter skirts or even long baggy pants narrowing to a cuff at the ankles called bloomers. which objected ride in full skirts. wearing the average of thirty-seven pounds of clothing. working. these women who were brave enough to don rational dress were treated by society as a social pariah. was attacked with bricks and At the beginning. Anthony once said. her fitness was very low. concerned the introduction of efficient pneumatic tires. Men and women alike demanded that she go home where she belonged and behave properly” (http://articles. Curves were accentuated by tightly laced corsets. This model was much more comfortable and fit for women. voting and doing much of anything at all seemed a rational measure” (http://articles. The issue of women on bicycles raised many questions.. because a large part of society shared a firm belief that machinery and athletic activity should remain part of a man’s It is an undeniable fact that the cumbersome Victorian attire worn by ladies of that time did not help them in participation in the The use of bicycles expanded around the world and women using bicycles found confidence and freedom” (http://www.

they didn’t faint or commit moral crimes.cnn. early-womens-liberation-movement.bicycling_1_victorian-lady-bicycles- women/4?_s=PM:LIVING. DOA June 28. Cycling gave them self sufficiency. 2011. In fact. .wordpress. DOA June 28.blogspot. relaxed.them. 2011. 3.html. DOA June 28. References: 1. women still cycled individually and in groups and to the surprise of the doomsayers. they became more fit. http://suite101. liberation-a244349. DOA June 28. http://articles. http://crankedmag. and freedom from restrictive clothing and social bonds (http://www. and engaged in life. 2011.

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