When women and girls first rode bicycles in large numbers in the 1890s, they celebrated their new freedom to move around in the world. Susan B. Anthony said she stood and rejoiced, “every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” She thought bicycling had “done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” Is it surprising that conservatives panicked at visions of women riding alone, with other women, or with unsuitable men, and campaigned to stop them?
Bicycling women did not want to give up their new mobility, and there were plenty of arguments back and forth. Some claimed that women would damage themselves by acquiring a “bicycle face,” or would get sexual pleasure from bicycling — and thus ruin their reproductive capacities. Although this seems like something that happened long ago, women, especially, are often still discouraged from physical activity and mobility in the US and in other countries.
During this talk, Ellen Gruber Garvey will invite the audience to discuss ways they were encouraged to participate in physical activity or discouraged from it, and how they responded. (For a large audience, we can first do this in small groups, or through writing.) We will consider how the automobile, which followed the bicycle as an agent of individual mobility, has reduced Americans’ physical activity.
This talk, with plenty of illustrations, invites the audience to think about their own experiences in relation to history. It requires a projector for a laptop.