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Better Days Reading Club – Week Three: How the Bicycle Paved the Way for Women’s Rights

April 6, 2020

The 1896 Utah House of Representatives. That’s committee clerk Henrietta Clark with her bicycle. Utah State Historical Society

Welcome back to another week of the Better Days Reading Club! We are really excited about this week’s topic because of its ties to Utah history, but also because it relates to modern women’s rights movements as well.

The article we’ll be reading together this week is by Adrienne LaFrance in The Atlantic, and it’s all about one simple invention: the bicycle. In the 1890’s, bicycles had really gained popularity because a new version of the bicycle had been released in 1885. It was much safer to ride than the previous version (referred to as the penny-farthing), and more realistic for women to ride. This version of the bicycle gave women mobility and independence.

Both Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were quoted saying that “woman is riding to suffrage on the bicycle”. LaFrance’s article explores how people of the time reacted to women riding bicycles, as well as how women’s fashion changed considerably in reaction to this new mode of transportation. The bicycle significantly changed culture for American women, and completely changed the game for the women’s suffrage movement. 

This 1899 photo, captioned “Sew on your own buttons, Im going for a ride,” captures some of the fears–and truths–about what the bicycle would mean for women. Library of Congress.

There are a lot of places places in the world where women are still fighting for mobility, independence, and freedom of choice. A simple device like a bicycle could give them a lot of of choice and opportunity in their situation. Especially in more rural areas, and areas with more traditional gender roles, a bicycle can mean independence. Here’s a great article with modern examples of how bicycles can help women.

Here are a few questions to consider:

  • How did the bicycle help women gain more freedoms?
  • How have other technologies impacted women throughout history? (For example: the railroad, radios, television, the internet, etc.)
  • How can other forms of transportation and new technologies help women around the world today achieve more mobility and independence?

Click here or below for the printable PDF. As you think about our weekly questions, we’d love for you to share your thoughts on our social media platforms! Follow Better Days 2020 there to keep updated, and we’ll see you next week.

Click here for last week’s reading club article about Utah women gaining and losing voting rights, and here for our first week’s content about the making of Seneca Falls.

For a look at how another technological development affected Utah women, click here for our lesson on Utah women and the railroad.

Many thanks to Emma Summers for developing the materials for the Better Days Reading Club! Emma is an education student from St. Augustine, Florida. She loves to teach in big lecture halls just as much as she does groups of 2-3 students. Social studies is her passion, as well as chocolate chip cookies and Sunday naps.