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Sunday, 16 January 2022

Wheel Women: Sepia Saturday

This week's Sepia Saturday  photograph features a woman, c.1900  standing proudly beside her bicycle. The prompt made  made me take a look at the topic of women on wheels - or as, one journalist in the 1890's called them, "wheelwomen".

"Velocipedes" were an early form of bicycle, followed by the penny farthing and the boneshaker.


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.

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 called 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."


Images above courtesy of Pixabay.  Sources of quotes:  Find My Past British Newspapers Online

Below cycling photographs from my local and family history group Auld Earlston :   


       Three photogrpahs of women cyslists in Earlston in the Scottish Borders
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, along with a bell.

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!

Adapted from a post I first published in 2017. 
Sepia Saturday gives bloggers an opportunity to share
their family history and memories through photographs.

Click HERE  to see other writings this week from Sepia Saturday bloggers,


  1. Good photos showing women on wheels! Super connected to the meme!

  2. I have always been fascinated by the variety of early cycle designs from bone shaker to the big wheel and everything else. Here in the mountains of North Carolina the latest fashion is electric bikes and several shops now rent them to tourists. My dog and I are frequently startled on our morning walk by flocks of these new-age cyclists who come whizzing past as they follow a guide on a tour of my historic neighborhood. Unlike regular bikes, these can zip up a hill almost as fast as coming down.

  3. A neat selection of bicycle photos. Boy, they really had some weird ones back in the day. I had my first bike at age 12. It had 3 speeds: standard, helpful for uphill, and free wheel for zipping along easily on level ground. The third one is the one that got me in trouble most of the time! :)


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