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Bicycles and Women's Rights

Posted on June 24, 2019

By Lynn Yeakel

With graduation season wrapping up this month, I am reflecting again on the significance of "commencement" and the importance of using what we've learned from the past as we embark on new ventures. That thinking applies to Vision 2020's

Women 100: A National Celebration of American Women next year as well as to our personal lives.

Planning for Vision 2020's Women 100 interactive educational exhibition, "A Seat at the Table," which will be a centerpiece of our year-long activities, is well underway. Scheduled to open to the public on March 1, 2020, the exhibition will occupy much of the vast lobby space in the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia and will be up through September. It is designed to inform and educate the public, from middle schoolers on up, about the historic contributions of American women, the current status of women's leadership and the unfinished business of women's equality. It is intended to inspire visitors to increase their civic engagement, as voters and leaders in their communities.

One surprising element of the exhibition is the inclusion of three bicycles, and this has taught me something I did not know. When the bicycle became popular in the 1890s, a quarter century before women could vote, it opened up new possibilities for women. Women now had more freedom in how they dressed, changing from the restrictive, modest fashion of the Victorian age into outfits that (gasp) exposed their ankles and bloomers. More important, bicycles gave women a new means of transportation independence.

In The Atlantic's How the Bicycle Paved the Way for Women's Rights, Adrienne LaFrance writes: "Imagine what it must have felt like -- in an age when American women were still decades from the right to vote and inundated with men's opinions about their ankles -- for a woman to go outside, hop on her bicycle and ride as fast as she could wherever she wanted, leaving the rest of the world wondering where she might go."