“Annie Londonderry Rode No Ordinary:” Women and the Cycling Craze of the 1890s

drawing of woman in pants with a bicycle
Source: Library of Congress, St. Paul Daily Globe, April 14, 1895

“She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life.”
— Francis Willard

In the 1890s, America was in the midst of a cycling craze, much to the annoyance of horse-drawn carriage drivers. With the invention of the safety bicycle, more and more women took up this new form of transportation.  No longer was cycling the domain of the Wheelmen and their high-wheel bicycles, known as the penny-farthing or ordinary. Imagine the difficulty of climbing up a five-foot wheel in a corset and skirt!

By the mid-1890s, the craze was in full swing, or pedal, among those in the suffragist movement. Francis Willard, though better known as a suffragist and prohibitionist than a cyclist, wrote a book about cycling in 1895.  In 1896, Susan B. Anthony, in an interview with journalist Nelly Bly, stated that “bicycling had done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”  (“Champion of Her Sex,” New York Sunday World, February 2 1896, p. 10).

But it was Annie Londonderry, a married mother of three who caught the world’s attention in 1895 as she became the first woman to bicycle around the world;  “the most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman.” (New York World,  October 20, 1895.)

Happy reading and riding (but not at the same time)!

Adult Nonfiction

How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle

Around the World on Two Wheels

Adult Fiction

A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar

Children’s

Wheels of Change

And check out “The Ballad of Annie Londonderry” to get inspired: