Wheels of change


Susan B. Anthony

“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling,” pioneer women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony declared in 1896 at the height of America’s craze for a new form of transportation and recreation.
“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.”
Those changes in society wrought by the bicycle — in social interaction between the sexes, in women’s clothing, in perceptions of women’s physical capabilities — are explored in a new children’s book by Sue Macy, Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way).
Published by National Geographic and issued Jan. 11, the book is aimed at children aged 10 and older and contains 25 color illustrations, some of which are shown in a slideshow below.
A mini-review of the book on the website grist.org cites this quote from Munsey’s Magazine in 1896: “To men, the bicycle in the beginning was merely a new toy, another machine added to the long list of devices they knew in their work and play. To women, it was a steed upon which they rode into a new world.”
From the publisher’s synopsis:
“Take a lively look at women’s history from aboard a bicycle, which granted females the freedom of mobility and helped empower women’s liberation. Through vintage photographs, advertisements, cartoons, and songs, Wheels of Change transports young readers to bygone eras to see how women used the bicycle to improve their lives. Witty in tone and scrapbook-like in presentation, the book deftly covers early (and comical) objections, influence on fashion, and impact on social change inspired by the bicycle …”

Annie Kopchovsky

Among the story’s in Macy’s book is that of a pioneer female cyclist whom I had written about previously in this blog, Annie Cohen Kopchovsky.
Kopchovsky, who used the name Annie Londonderry, was a Latvian-born Jew and the working mother of three who sought to escape her humdrum life in the tenements of Boston’s West End by setting off around the world on a bicycle in the mid-1890s. (See April 29, 2010, post, “Books about biking.”)
My wife is a librarian at a Fort Worth elementary school. Macy’s book would seem to be an excellent addition to the school’s library.

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Filed under Americana, History, Literary musings, Urban cycling

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