Self-Propelled Engines Of Change

So it turns out the bicycle played an important role in empowering 19th-century women:

From allowing young people to socialize without the chaperoning of clergymen and other merchants of morality to finally liberating women from the constraints of corsets and giant skirts (the “rational dress” pioneered by bike-riding women cut the weight of their undergarments to a “mere” seven pounds), the velocipede made possible previously unthinkable actions and interactions that we now for granted to the point of forgetting the turbulence they once incited. …
“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think 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

Earlier in that post, there’s an even better quote, bringing to mind the parade of proposals like anti-child labor legislation, women’s suffrage, and Medicaid that were all, in the minds of conservatives, going to destroy America.  It appears with more context here:

Miss Charlotte M. Smith, in her official capacity as president of the Women’s Rescue League, at Washington, D.C., has issued a manifesto against bicycling for women… ” ‘Bicycle run for Christ,’ by so-called Christians, should be properly termed ‘Bicycle run for Satan,’ for the bicycle is the devil’s advance agent, morally and physically, in thousands of instances.”

That link goes to a Google Books result for a periodical called Public Opinion, which styled itself ”A Comprehensive Summary of the Press Throughout the World on All Important Current Topics.”

It almost appears as if, back then, when one needed access to a printing press to be counted as part of public opinion, the quality of discourse was a bit better.  Ms. Smith, unlike modern bomb-throwers like Ann Coulter, seems to have endured a chilly reception.

The Baltimore Herald: “one is irresistibly drawn to the conclusion that a good deal of noise is being made over a very insignificant matter.”  The Tacoma News: “the less such mawkish circulars find publication the better.”  The Council Bluffs Nonpareil: “The bicycle is no more conducive to immorality than the washtub.”

But she found some kindred spirits at the Detroit News-Tribune: “A spin on the public streets is one thing; a long, fatiguing spurt into the out-of-the-way places of the suburbs or of the country is quite another thing when the spurters are two young people of opposite sexes.”

Reposted from last year.

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