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Saturday, 2 September 2017

Women on Wheels - Sepia Saturday

This week's prompt photograph of a vintage cycling advertisement,   c.1900   made me take a look at  the topic of women on wheels  - or as,  one journalist in the 1890's called them,  "wheelwomen". 
Kids, Boy, Girl, Brother, Sister
 "Velocipedes"   were an early form of bicycle, followed by the penny farthing and the boneshaker.   

Vintage, Postcard, Collage, Design

 Penny Farthing, Bike, Bicycle, Old

Vintage, Steampunk, Bicycle, Patent

 The introduction of the "safety bicycle" brought in the first hey days for leisure cycling in the 1890's, with women not going to be left behind.  For women, cycling  came to represent a freedom they had not experienced before and the activity quickly became associated with the wider movement of  women's emancipation.   

But there  were public outcries at the prospect of these  changes in the social norm with much of the criticism focusing on women's dress - notably the new style of bloomers and knickerbockers. these  offered more freedom for movemen than women's  usual restrictive dresses.     These fashions became the subject of ridicule in cartoon of the time.
 Couple, Bicycle, Vintage, Advertisement

Newspapers of the day  ** abound  with letters,  articles  and reports  on  the vision of women riding around the countryside .   

In 1894 the Society of Cyclists calling for  "Rational Dress for  Wheelwomen" 

An angry  letter condemned "a young woman who spends most of her time in riding  on a man's bicycle, has a good deal to learn in respect of simplicity and neatness of attire". 

A clergyman refused to give communion to women who turned up for church in bloomers or knickerbockers.  

However some  doctors said firmly that, " as those best qualified to judge, they were almost unanimous in declaring that the average standard of health among women, who cycle had shown an appreciable elevation."

So this was the image portrayed in advertisements and posters that conveyed a sense of fun and freedom. with illustrations of happy cyclist  enjoying the fresh air and exercise.  

As one protagonist said 
A  most exciting and delightful mode of travel.  

Bike, Bicycle, Hessian, Sacking


But what of my ancestors - next to no  photographs exist of them on bikes.  My grandfather cycled or walked everywhere until he died.   For years, my aunt cycled  in all weathers more than five  miles to her work as a teacher  on a bike with a basket on the front handle bars. When I came to get my first bike, the basket like hers was a "must have" item. 

Here is my husband's great Aunt Pat who doing the Second World War rode on her bicycle to work with the Fire Service in Kent  on the south coast. 

Fast forward  more than 110 years from the first image, and here is my granddaughter in the casual dress of the day, plus the  obligatory helmet as "health and safety"  considerations reign supreme.   What a contrast!


Sepia Saturday gives bloggers an opportunity to share 
their family history and memories through photographs.


Click  HERE to see tales form other Sepia Saturday  bloggers.  



  1. Let's hear it for those doctors -- how great that the women had science on their side! Wonderful photos and history, right down to your granddaughter's safety attire.

  2. They still make women's bicycles, though I doubt that many women ride them wearing skirts or dresses.

  3. Interesting study of the subject. Young women should read it and be amazed :)

  4. What a delightful post. You weave wider social history and family history together like an expert seamstress.

  5. Oh those knockerbockers - they were so large I’d have thought they restricted movement rather than allowing more freedom!

  6. Interesting history and pictures to go with it. I remember we used to have skirt guards on our bikes but I'm pretty no one has those any more.

  7. Long ago I had a memorable conversation with a woman of 70+ age who lived in a very small remote village in the north of England. When speaking of bicycles her face lit up as she described the joy of freedom she attained when she got her first bicycle as a young girl in the 1920s. It was a kind of liberation modern people like myself rarely encounter.

  8. Like all your advertising pictures. I loved my bike when I was growing up. I got it for my 12th birthday. It was light blue with white-wall tires, a front basket, fancy handlebar grips, a horn, and 3 speeds! It provided me with many hours of fun and lots of scabs and bruises. Luckily I never hit my head when I fell off. Good that kids today wear helmets!

  9. Great segway from history to present day bicycles with women...or girls. I forgot how wonderful breezing along in silence was, feeling free from all the rest of my life when I got on that first bicycle. I have no idea if my mom or grandmothers enjoyed the same freedom, but I hope so. My sons had every kind of bike, and the mountain bikes were the most amazing. I have had friends who "tour" with clubs, going on many back roads for miles.

  10. Thank you all for your kind comments. I was delighted to find a website of free images to compose the post - Pixabay.


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