12 April 2013

Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way) by Sue Macy

Who would have thought that an intertwining history of bicycling and women's rights would be simply fascinating? Sue Macy presents a comprehensive early history of how the bicycle was created, from the original concept of a two-wheeled "running machine" in 1817, through to the late 19th and early 20th Centuries when bike riding became a more widely accepted method of transportation, exercise, and recreation. While that information, in Macy's text and accompanying pictures and anecdotes, is simply interesting enough to carry the reader on a swiftly-paced journey, the author also ties the evolution of bicycles into the social and political history of the American woman.

At a period in history during which many women were tied to their duties as wives, mothers, and, well, women, bicycles presented a very direct avenue toward freedom and independence. Apparently many girls, who were otherwise always chaperoned, were allowed to go on bike rides alone with groups of friends, including boys. Bicycles were difficult to ride in hoop skirts or long dresses, and so an entire industry began to adjust to split skirts, pants, and shorter wardrobes. Bicycles caught the attention of everyone from Abigail Adams to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, as well as male and female lawmakers, advertisers, manufacturers, and entertainers.

The freedom that many women take for granted in America today often doesn't exist in
other countries. In many ways, this book exists as a nod to the bicycle for changing the way women were treated and the way women behaved in American history, but it also begs for the inclusion of bicycles in everyday life in places like Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya in Africa as encouragement to young girls to keep moving forward . . ..

Reviewed (and highly recommended!) by kate the librarian.

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