The Lives of Our Ancestors: the Moral Threat of Bicycles in the 1890s

Today we typically think of bicycles as toys for children or as exercise machines for adults to help them maintain a healthy lifestyle. Yet out ancestors often had very different opinions about bicycles. As Michael Taylor explained in a 2010 paper, Protestant authorities saw cycling as a significant threat to morality, and tried to mold the sport into a Christian activity. The Women’s Rescue League of Boston even claimed that, following the closing of brothels, prostitutes were riding bikes to reach their clients.


You can read about this interesting change of morals in a short paper by Livia Gershon at and in the longer Rapid Transit to Salvation: American Protestants and the Bicycle in the Era of the Cycling Craze by Michael Taylor at


There was a rumor of preachers in New England condemning bicycles for women because they feared women might get some…ah…physical satisfaction from riding a bicycle. Of course in 1890, we couldn’t have that! Scandalous!


I am reading a novel right now about this very subject. It takes place in the late 1890s in Germany. While the World Is Still Asleep by Petra Durst-Benning. Velocipedes were taboo for women.


Can I be allowed to offer your readers a light-heated aside on 19th century cycling?

Banjo Patterson was one of Australia’s best known bards of the time, and a well-known poem of his was “Mulga Bil’s Bicycle”. One of many sites containing the text is , and relevant cartoons are at .

Eaglehawk that is mentioned in line 1 is part of Bendigo, which at the time was a wealthy gold mining town.


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