Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (with a Few Flat Tires Along the Way)

Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (with a Few Flat Tires Along the Way)

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by Sue Macy

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Take a lively look at women's history from aboard a bicycle, which granted females the freedom of mobility and helped empower women's liberation. Through vintage photographs, advertisements, cartoons, and songs, Wheels of Change transports young readers to bygone eras to see how women used the bicycle to improve their lives. Witty in tone and


Take a lively look at women's history from aboard a bicycle, which granted females the freedom of mobility and helped empower women's liberation. Through vintage photographs, advertisements, cartoons, and songs, Wheels of Change transports young readers to bygone eras to see how women used the bicycle to improve their lives. Witty in tone and scrapbook-like in presentation, the book deftly covers early (and comical) objections, influence on fashion, and impact on social change inspired by the bicycle, which, according to Susan B. Anthony, "has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world."

NCSS—Notable Social Studies Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies 2012

School Library Journal Best Books of 2011

Finalist YALSA Excellence in Non Fiction for Young Adults

SLJ’s 100 Magnificent Children’s Books of 2011

Amelia Bloomer List

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—The heyday of the bicycle in the late 1800s seems to go hand-in-hand with the early struggle for more freedoms and rights for women. With this simple mode of transportation, new worlds were suddenly open to women who had been living under fairly strict social customs; it gave them the confidence to explore new opportunities, exercise, and even transform their clothing from the restrictive corsets and petticoats to ones that were more comfortable, and considerably more daring. The use of primary sources such as advertisements, excerpts from journals, photographs, and artwork all add invaluably to the informative and accessible writing. Sidebars and spotlights on individual women important to both the sport of cycling as well as the fight for more freedoms are of particular interest and create an eye-catching and inviting format. A time line contrasting the history of the women's movement with the bicycle's history is especially interesting. Booktalk this title with Jane Kurtz's Bicycle Madness (Holt, 2003) for a great fiction/nonfiction pairing, or share it with Julie Cummins's Women Daredevils (Dutton, 2008) for an intriguing look at women's history.—Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA
VOYA - Amy Fiske
This book details an overlooked aspect of women's history by chronicling the effect of the invention of the bicycle on women's lives. Bicycles afforded a measure of freedom to women by allowing them to move more freely than ever before. This did not pass unnoticed and, predictably, there was a period of conservative backlash. As women began to ride bicycles, women's clothing began to change to accommodate riding. Personal transportation appealed to nearly everyone but especially women, allowing them to carve out a public life previously denied. That bicycles became a favorite of women's rights crusaders is no great surprise. The book reveals all this and more. Macy devotes chapters to the bicycle's invention, resulting social backlash, effect on women's fashion, women cyclists, and new freedoms brought by the bicycle. Each chapter contains informative text, photos, illustrations, primary source material, and interesting facts in sidebars. The pages are colorful and visually appealing, the layout interesting without being busy. The text is well researched and informative. Side-by-side timelines of women's history and bicycle history nicely tie together highlights of both topics in a visual manner. A resource page provides information on further study. This would be a fun addition to a women's history collection; however, the narrow focus may dissuade some librarians with limited budgets. Reviewer: Amy Fiske

Product Details

National Geographic Society
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
7.70(w) x 10.10(h) x 0.50(d)
1280L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

“Many a girl has come to her ruin through a spin on a country road.” – Charlotte Smith, Brooklyn Eagle, August 20, 1896
It was June 29, 1896, and Charlotte Smith was beside herself with concern for the young women of the United States. Smith, the 55-year-old daughter of Irish immigrants, had spent the last decade and a half fighting for the rights of female workers. But now all of her worries about their health and well-being were focused on one wildly popular mechanical object: the bicycle.
“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,” wrote Smith in a resolution issued by her group, the Women’s Rescue League. “The bicycle is the devil’s advance agent morally and physically in thousands of instances.” Smith’s resolution called for “all true women and clergymen” to join with her in denouncing the bicycle craze among women as “indecent and vulgar.” She set her sights on New York City as the laboratory for her reform efforts, opening a branch of her Washington-based organization there with the goal of ultimately limiting the use of the bicycle by women.
Smith blamed the bicycle for the downfall of women’s health, morals, and religious devotion. Her accusations brought a swift and impassioned response. The Reverend Dr. A. Stewart Walsh, a respected clergyman in New York City and a cyclist himself, wrote a letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Eagle declaring. “I have associated with thousands of riders...and I have not seen among them . . . anything that could begin to approach the outrageous and scandalous indecency of the resolutions of the alleged rescue league.” 
Ellen B. Parkhurst, wife of another New York minister, celebrated the advantages of bicycle riding in Washington’s Evening Times. “Of course I do not believe that bicycling is immoral,” she said. “A girl who rides a wheel is lifted out of herself and her surroundings. She is made to breathe purer air, see fresher and more beautiful scenes, and get an amount of exercise she would not otherwise get. All this is highly beneficial.”
In fact, the impact of the bicycle on the health and welfare of its riders was the subject of a great deal of discussion in the 1890s. At first, the popularity of the safety drew mostly praise as its use seemed to usher in a new era of robust living. Medical literature linked cycling to cures for everything from asthma and diabetes to heart disease and varicose veins, while one study credited the decreasing death rate from consumption (tuberculosis) among women in Massachusetts to their increasing use of the bicycle. Cigar sales took a hit — one industry estimate suggested people were buying as many as one million fewer cigars per day — because cyclists were too busy exercising to indulge in the smoking habit. And in Chicago, bicycling evidently caused a drop in the use of the painkiller morphine. “The morphine takers have discovered that a long spin in the fresh air on a cycle induces sweet sleep better than their favorite drug,” reported the British Medical Journal in November 1895.

Meet the Author

SUE MACY is the author of Bulls-Eye: A Photobiography of Annie Oakley; Swifter, Higher, Stronger: A Photographic History of the Summer Olympics; Freeze Frame: A Photographic History of the Winter Olympics; Play Like A Girl: A Celebration of Women in Sports; Winning Ways: A Photohistory of American Women in Sports; and A Whole New Ball Game: The Story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.  She brings a consciousness of the history of women in sport to the story of sharpshooter Annie Oakley and carries this mythic and historic figure gracefully into modern light.  She has won numerous awards and starred reviews for her books.  Winning Ways and A Whole New Ball Game were both named ALA Best Books for Young Adults and NCSS-CBC Notable Children's Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies.

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Wheels of Change 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
ReadingRoom More than 1 year ago
This is a great book to share with young and old alike, especially during Women's History Month. I had no idea how much the bicycle had to do with women's liberation. The writing in this book was thorough, yet brief enough to keep your interest and the photographs and illustrations were interesting and well presented. I recommend it as a resource for schools, churches, and homeschoolers. It was a great book.