Bicycle Girls

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.

bicycle-girl-essex-street text

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.

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