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.

women_vintage_bicycle

You can read about this interesting change of morals in a short paper by Livia Gershon at http://daily.jstor.org/the-moral-threat-of-bicycles-in-the-1890s/ and in the longer Rapid Transit to Salvation: American Protestants and the Bicycle in the Era of the Cycling Craze by Michael Taylor at http://goo.gl/PBkVxv.

3 Comments

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!

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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.

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Dick,
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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