I seem to be returning to the topic of women bicyclists again and again, but I can’t help myself: I’m so struck by the images I keep coming across. The last photograph in the collection/exhibition I shared in my last post is an equally striking one: ladies (and some men) on a cycling tour of the North Shore rest long enough on Salem Common to have their picture taken on October 15, 1885. This is just before the introduction of the modern “safety bicycle”, so they have been touring, rather precariously I would think, on their penny farthings. And I’ve cropped the photograph of Essex Street activities from this same post, just so we can see the shirtwaisted lady in the foreground a bit better: she looks like a model for the bicycle art of her era, examples of which are below.
Some more photographs, spanning the era of a bicycle craze for women (and men) from the 1890s through the 1920s: a stereoview issued by the American Stereoscopic Company in 1897, an image from what looks like a rather well-to-do British family’s album in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, and a bicycle girl messenger for the National Women’s Party in 1922 (Library of Congress).
These women look so happy–well at least most of them do. Bicycle girls often appear in the illustrative art of the era as well, in single prints, advertising posters, and on magazine covers. On both sides of the Atlantic, the most eminent graphic artists of the day appear to have been inspired by their carefree images, including Will Bradley, Cecil Aldin, and Charles Arthur Cox, who created 10 absolutely charming covers for the Chicago-based bicycling magazine Bearings in the 1890s.
Will Bradly advertisement for Victor Bicycles and Cecil Aldin illustration for Rudge Whitworth Bicycles, both 1896 and Collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Charles Arthur Cox’s covers for Bearings Magazine, New York Public Library Digital Collection.
April 21st, 2012 at 10:57 am
I guess the girls looked so happy because for the first time in history they had gained some independence and freedom to travel where they liked (under their own pedal-power):) Great post, loved the V&A pictures.
April 23rd, 2012 at 7:45 am
And the 1920s girl is probably particularly happy because she’s the only one not wearing a corset on her bike!
April 23rd, 2012 at 9:06 am
At least they weren’t whalebones anymore at that time…although it still must have been rather difficult to cycle with all those stockings, suspenders and tight flapper dresses:)
April 21st, 2012 at 11:06 am
Great photographs & advertisements! My professor from UVM, Bob McCullough, is researching bicycle manufacturing plants & love bicycle history. You two would probably have lots to talk about. I’ll pass this post along to him.
April 23rd, 2012 at 7:45 am
Thanks, Kaitlin. Love your blog.
April 21st, 2012 at 12:11 pm
April 21st, 2012 at 2:01 pm
These are remarkable images. My most vivid image of a female on a bike is from the Wizard of Oz. The tornado hits and the woman who doesn’t like the dog Toto is seen riding her bike in the sky.
April 21st, 2012 at 3:19 pm
I know what you mean, I have a hard time not thinking about biker chicks too 😉
April 21st, 2012 at 8:36 pm
Oh wow, i have an old image i must send to you, i will scan it, well i will try, anyway it is two sisters, one with her horse and one with her bicycle, and the big dog sits proudly in the foreground facing away from the camera, they are johns great great somethings and they both have feathers in their hats! so cool.. c
April 23rd, 2012 at 7:46 am
April 22nd, 2012 at 10:03 pm
Great stuff here. I love that dressed woman in the white blouse. Very classy.