In the early 1800s, the bicycle proved to be a great means of transportation for women, despite public opinion. Criticized by society for not being elegant, considered dangerous for fertility by doctors and decried as immoral by some men, the bicycle will overcome prejudice and criticism to become a staple of the end of the 19th century. And that thanks to some pretty courageous women. A look back at 4 of them who started to write the history of women's cycling.BLANCHE D’ANTIGNY 1840-1874- French
She was a star of french theatre and opera. She was one of the first women to be painted and portrayed with her bike. It seems that she was the first woman to ride a bike in public and for this she filled out a prefectural authorization form to be able to wear pants. Blanche would, therefore, be a great contribution to the emancipation of women. Parisian, she excels in federal fields: journalism, circus, and theater. During the Franco-Prussian War, she welcomed the wounded in her private mansion. She advertised Michaux bikes. ( Pierre Michaux created and developed the manufacture of pedal velocipedes). She was also the model for the heroine of ‘Nana’ by Émile Zola.
*****LADY HARBERTON (FLORENCE WALLACE POMEROY) 1843-1911- British
Committed to cycling, freedom, and femininity. She was president of the western rational dress society. At the end of the 19th century, Lady Harberton was one of the leaders of the women's movement who campaigned for their rights to use a bicycle. She was one of the first to promote an outfit suitable for cycling. At the time, the bicycle offered new freedoms that women did not have. It allowed to move around alone and do physical exercise. She was a passionate cyclist and drove more groups of female cyclists thereafter, and was a milestone on the path to female emancipation.
*****ANNIE COHEN KOPCHOVSKY 1870-1947 - American
The first woman to cycle around the world. It was on June 25, 1894, at the age of 23, this young independent woman challenged herself to go around the world by bicycle. She wanted to prove that women were just as capable as men (note that at that time women did not have the right to vote). In her bloomer and her sterling male bicycle and her sponsor (Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company) she left for 15 months and she returned on September 12, 1895. This was a nice physical and endurance feat for Annie. To find out more, watch the documentary The New Women: Annie Londonderry Kopchovsky.
*****ALFONSINA STRADA 1891-1959 - Italian
The first woman who took part in the big men's cycling tour of Italy. Alfonsina participated in her first race at 13 years old and won all the women's races in which she was engaged. During her career she won 36 races in front of men. In 1911 she broke the hour record for women (owned by Frenchwoman Louise Roger). Her family wanted her to stop cycling, she refused, and she trained herself for the Giro d’Italia. She was one of the 30 to cross the finish line. Then she changed her name to Alfonsino Strada, able to participate in the grand male cycling tour and thus she became the first woman to participate officially.
And it is by fighting, and especially cycling that women have acquired the right to freedom, mobility and emancipation.
"The bicycle has done more for the empowerment of women than anything in the world. I persist and I rejoice every time I see a woman on a bike ” Susan B. Anthony: American women's rights activist, 1896.