A book about much more than the history of women and bicycles, Sue Macy’s Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way) does an incredible job of using facts, photographs, quotations and illustrations to depict the story of women’s liberation around the turn of the 19th century. From the introduction of the bicycle in the United States to the changes in women’s fashion resulting from cycling, this book covers a lot of ground.
Wheels of Change, published by National Geographic, is appropriate for younger audiences and is very readable, but it is packed with enough interesting information to hold the attention of an adult female cyclist who has done her fair share of reading cycling-related literature. The history written on every page is complemented by authentic photos and illustrations, and it is hard not to keep turning the pages.
Although Macy covers the early evolution of the bicycle and aspects of early bicycle advocacy, each chapter is infused with women’s role in these developments as well as a broader history of how women’s liberation began to take shape in this period. Many influential women who were instrumental in advancing women’s rights also favored the bicycle, and the personalities and accomplishments of women such as Susan B. Anthony, Frances Willard and many more are brought to life throughout the book.
Within each chapter, there are amusing features that highlight topics like “Celebrity Cyclists” (famous women from a century ago, of course) and “Selling with Cycling,” which includes advertisements showcasing women on bicycles. Who knew that women on bicycles were used to sell canned salmon and carpet many years ago?
In the book, both positive and negative opinions of female cyclists are presented. While Susan B. Anthony proclaimed, “I think [bicycling] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel,” others disagreed. Charlotte Smith believed, “Bicycling by young women has helped to swell the ranks of reckless girls who finally drift into the standing army of outcast women of the United States.”
Full of entertaining and enlightening material that all somehow relates to women and cycling, Wheels of Change is an excellent representation of how bicycling women played a part in advancing the rights and opportunities for all women at the close of the 1800s, as well as how much progress was yet to come.