Women Cycling Pioneers & Modern Day Advocates
March is National Women History Month and there is no better time to showcase those who have changed the way we use cycling to inspire others to make healthy choices.
In March many organizations plan and promote various activities to celebrate the unique contributions women made to history. The telling of women’s stories usually begins with the suffrage movement starting in the late 19th century.
Women’s history and cycling history are interwoven with the suffrage movement. The League of American Bicyclists(fka American League of Wheelman) posted a great blog with links to the various contributions of women cyclists. Summarizing all the articles would be a bit beyond the reach of this post, but I would like to highlight some of the stories that felt relevant to me and which I believe reflect the goals and values of the Wisconsin Women’s Cycling. My hope is you, the reader, will explore the rest of this rich and interesting history that is in the process of being uncovered.
One of the goals Wisconsin Women Cycling is to “inspire women to make healthy choices, on and off their bikes.” Many pioneer women cyclists promoted cycling as beneficial to their health and development of character and some of the earliest cycling publications, such as the American League of Wheelman, give us some insights to a woman’s perspective on cycling.
Perhaps the most famous suffragette, Susan B. Anthony, wrote in this publication, “The bicycle will inspire women with more courage, self-respect and self-reliance and make the next generation more vigorous of mind and body.” I really love this quote, because I felt it reflected my experience with cycling; it has done all this for me.
Another individual, Annie “Londonderry” Kopchovsky, became a cyclist and a feminist as a result of a cycling bet to tour the world on a bicycle. She was quoted in 1895 in the Stockton Evening Mail as saying, “If women will exercise properly on a wheel, they will have nicely rounded figures, bright eyes, and healthy cheeks, and will feel well the year ‘round.” She recognized the benefits of exercise to women, and made controversial comments on women’s clothing, particularly the corset.
Besides Annie Kophchovsky, there are two other women that would make contributions to women’s cycling and women’s clothing: Amelia Bloom and Kittie Knox. Both women challenged the prevalent idea at the time that women should wear only a skirt.The name Amelia Bloomer may sound familiar since she created “bloomers”, or full leg pants that gather at the ankle. Bloomers were thought to be inappropriate attire for women, even though they made it easier for women to cycle. Bloomers became popular through her efforts during the time the cycling craze of the 19th century was gaining momentum. Kittie Knox took this to another level. She was actually a seamstress and designed a suit consisting of “knickers”; her design actually won a costume contest. However, this wasn’t Kitty’s most significant contribution. She was biracial and challenged the American League of Wheelman’s position to admit only “whites.” Her advocacy became important not only for women’s cycling, but also for black history.
There are other notable women, such as Tilly Anderson who won many cycling races and Maria E. Ward who published a book on bicycle mechanics for women. You can find more about these women in various sources listed below on women who pioneered cycling as well as their modern day counterparts.
Women Cycling Pioneers
- Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom book by Sue Macy
- 3 Days, 5 Women, 250 Miles website by Marya A. McQuirter. It documents a 3-day bicycle ride by 5 Black Women.
- The New Woman: Annie “Londonderry” Kopchovsky film by Gillian K. Wilman.
- Women on Wheels book by April Streeter. A blog about Tilly Anderson, women’s racing, and the introduction of pneumatic ‘safety’ bicycle.
- Hollywood Rides a Bike book by Steven Rae. Katherine Hepburn was showcased.
- Bicycling for Ladies book by Maria E. Ward. She appears to be the first to publish information on bicycle mechanics for women. Available online at
- A Wheel Within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle, With Some Reflections by the Way book by Francis Ward (1895). Available online at
Modern Day Women Cycling Advocates