- Sally Ride: Life on a Mission
- Roller Derby Rivals
- Basketball Belles: How Two Teams and One Scrappy Player Put Women's Hoops on the Map
- Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way)
- Bylines: A Photobiography of Nellie Bly
- Freeze Frame: A Photographic History of the Winter Olympics
- Swifter, Higher, Stronger: A Photographic History of the Summer Olympics
- Bull's-Eye: A Photobiography of Annie Oakley
- Girls Got Game: Sports Stories & Poems
- Play Like a Girl: A Celebration of Women In Sports
- Barbie: Shooting Hoops
- Winning Ways: A Photohistory of American Women in Sports
- A Whole New Ball Game: The Story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League
Wheels of Change
How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way)
Exploring the impact of the bicycle on
women and American life.
Foreword by Leah Missbach Day, Cofounder,
World Bicycle Relief • Published by the National Geographic Society, 2011 • 96 pages • Ages 10 & up
A Junior Library Guild Selection
I first came across Susan B. Anthony’s declaration that bicycling “has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world” way back in 1995, when I was doing the research for my book, Winning Ways. Years later, while working on Bylines, my biography of reporter Nellie Bly, I learned that Anthony had said those astonishing words in a candid interview with Bly in 1896. I had always been intrigued by Anthony’s impression of the importance of the bicycle, and I was equally curious about the fact that Frances Willard, president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, had written an entire book on the epiphanies she experienced while learning to ride a bicycle at age 53. With two of the nineteenth century’s leading feminists attributing the liberation of women to the two-wheeler, it seemed there was a larger story to be told.
Indeed there was! The bicycle craze of the 1890s brought about the relaxation of social traditions, allowing women to break out of the confines of their homes and socialize with men away from the prying eyes of chaperones. It led to the adoption of more comfortable, “rational” dress, since the corsets and heavy petticoats of old were impractical and downright dangerous on a bicycle. And it brought about the first massive involvement of women in physical fitness, strengthening their legs and their lungs and awakening an adventurous spirit that would carry them boldly into the twentieth century. Yet the bicycle didn’t only affect women’s lives. Cyclists banded together to passionately campaign for good roads, literally changed the landscape of the United States as more and more streets were paved. And the burgeoning bicycle industry introduced consumers to modern advertising techniques, using posters and pumping ad dollars into cycling publications to sell their wares.
In writing Wheels of Change, I wanted to communicate the totality of the bicycle craze, while paying particular attention to the impact it had on women’s lives. The two-page features between chapters tell part of the larger story, focusing on cycling slang, songs, and magazines, as well as celebrity cyclists of the day and how cycles were used to sell everything from carpets to confections. I was lucky enough to find two women with private collections of bicycle ads, art, magazines, and sheet music from the era, and their contributions helped me experience that time as authentically as I could from my perch in the 21st century. The contemporary short stories and other writing I read from the period also helped. I’ve included links to some of them on the next page. Check them out if you’d like to read more about the bicycle craze from those who lived it.
What the Critics Said
“The use of primary sources such as advertisements, excerpts from journals, photographs, and artwork all add invaluably to the informative and accessible writing. Sidebars and spotlights on individual women important to both the sport of cycling as well as the fight for more freedoms are of particular interest and create an eye-catching and inviting format.”—Starred Review, School Library Journal, April 2011
“A veteran nonfiction writer, Macy seamlessly weaves together research, direct quotes…, and historical overviews that put the facts into context, while sidebars expand on related topics from ‘cycling songs’ to standout female cyclists….The narrow focus on cycling will open up broader thought and discussion about women’s history, making this a strong, high-interest choice for both classroom and personal reading--for adults, too.”—ALA Booklist, February 15, 2011
“Macy’s light, conversational style and her enthusiasm for her subject infuse the book with sparkle and wit….In the end, Macy connects the dots between the advent of cycling and the advancement of women’s rights.”—Curriculum Connections, School Library Journal, March 1, 2011
Links to 1890s Cycling Writing
(all available free online)
“A Century Ride” by Grace E. Denison, in Outing, October 1893. Full text of short story.
“A Fin de Cycle Incident” by Edna C. Jackson, in Outing, June 1896. Full text of short story.
Bicycling for Ladies: The Common Sense of Bicycling by Maria E. Ward (New York: Brentano’s, 1896). Non-fiction, how-to manual. Full text available in various formats through the Internet Archive.
“The Stout Miss Hopkins's Bicycle” by Octave Thanet, in Different Girls: Harper’s Novelettes edited by William Dean Howells and Henry Mills Alden (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1897). Full text of short story.
"Taming the Bicycle” by Mark Twain, from What Is Man? and Other Essays (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1917). Full text of humorous essay, published posthumously.
The Wheels of Chance: A Bicycling Idyll by H.G. Wells (1896). Full text of novel.