AnarresTakver's Initiatives. P.O. Box 1078, Brunswick M.D.C, Victoria, 3056, Australia

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Wily Wheelwomen of the 1890s

Provided by the Question Mark Collective as part of a forthcoming anthology on Australian Troublemakers to be published by Melbourne based Scam Publications.

When the bicycling craze hit Australia it hit in a big way. During the 1890s cycle races were one of the hottest forms of entertainment on offer drawing crowds of many thousands. For the pedestrian cycling was an exciting new option for transport. It was also one of the most enduring for ordinary Australians until falling automobile prices saw them switch over in the 1940s and 1950s. Today its popularity as a non polluting alternative is growing.

Women embraced cycling as another area in which they could prove their equality with men. Denied the vote and the right to property they could at least demand the right to pedal about as they pleased. This right was challenged by conservative men in the medical industry as well as by conservative larrikins in the street. The pages of The Champion saw a debate break out in 1890 between those who saw cycling as "injurious to the fragile female form" and those who scoffed at such wacky medical ideas. The following letter is just one of a number which aired the right of women to choose what to do with their bodies and their leisure time. It demonstrates that not only were women themselves active in the fight for cyclists rights, but that the largely middle class cycling scene could have an impact on the dress codes of all women.

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Last modified: April 30, 1999

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