“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. … It has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.”
— Susan B. Anthony, 1896
There was once a time when young, dating couples were chaperoned, otherwise they were not allowed to meet …
More than 100 years ago, women dressed in layers — which included bulky petticoats, heavy skirts, laced-up shoes and over garments that often, under just normal circumstances, made breathing difficult.
Accelerated physical activity for women was frowned upon. Athletic competition was out of the question. Both were believed to have physiological impacts that threatened health.
In the late 1800s, women couldn’t vote. Women were back-seat drivers in commerce, politics and the workplace.
However, as activists like Susan B. Anthony, Frances Willard and Elizabeth Stanton emerged to carry the torch for female suffrage and nationwide temperance, the world of women’s rights began to evolve …
And in the waning years of the 19th century, one of the single most enabling vehicles for women became the bicycle.
As part of the celebration of Women’s History Month, the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame presents “Wheels of Change,” a Tireside Chat with author Sue Macy on Sunday at 2 p.m. Macy, whose book of the same name provides a revealing look at how the bicycle was a moving force in providing women a ride into their future, is a New Jersey resident who has written a spectrum of books about ground-breaking women and interesting moments in the evolution of women in sports and society.
From books about journalist Nellie Bly (written with Linda Ellerbee) and sharp-shooting Annie Oakley to a tome about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and “Play Like a Girl: A Celebration of Women in Sports,” Macy’s books always unearth interesting angles, powerful correlations and how the struggle for women’s rights usually had curious bedfellows along the way.
“We’re very fortunate to have Sue Macy with us on Sunday,” says Hall of Fame trustee Brodie Hamilton. “Her being with us is perfect with March being Women’s History Month.”
Hamilton says her book — “Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom” — is a “compelling, interesting” read.
In her presentation Sunday, Macy will talk about how the evolution of the bicycle help put women in the workplace. For instance, women’s bikes once had one pedal and were ridden side-saddle. Once that second pedal was added and women rode astride their bikes, they could travel six, eight, 10 city blocks to a workplace.
Fashion changed as these women sought comfortable clothing, not only for their new commute, but to stay cool once in the office or factory.
Dating changed. Chaperones couldn’t keep up with their charges.
Organizations were no longer simply ladies’ clubs for the very rich with drivers. From these new middle-ground groups came plans for a better America — a country in which women wanted to be equal partners.
Macy’s book takes a close look at how the bicycle was a game-changer.
Macy still lives in her native New Jersey. She is a Princeton graduate who honed her writing skills while working for Scholastic Inc., the company famous for educational supplements.
Macy says her passion growing up was sports and that from her first book, “A Whole New Ballgame,” women’s sports have been an overriding theme.
On Sunday, the Hall of Fame at 303 Third St., in the southwest corner of Central Park, will open at 1:30 p.m. A $5 donation is requested, with Macy’s talk featuring a question-and-answer session afterward.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.