March is Women’s History Month.
Yesterday, we met Annie Londonderry, who cycled around the world in 1894. Today, we’ll look briefly at suffragist Frances Willard. As president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), she developed the slogan “Do Everything” to encourage women to lobby, petition, preach and publish on a wide variety of issues of the day. She was instrumental in the passage of Prohibition and Women’s Suffrage. To this day, Willard is the often-mocked template of the old, do-gooder spinster who loudly condemns the culture of machismo, but this brave women empowered her sisters to take charge and took on a number of progressive causes: public education funding, free school lunches, unions, the eight-hour work day, homelessness, public health, transportation, violence against women, and child abuse.
In 1893, at the age of 53, Frances Willard learned to ride a bicycle to counteract her ailing health.
In her book A Wheel Within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle, Willard writes “the bicycle was perhaps our strongest ally in winning young mean way from public houses because it afforded them a pleasure far more enduring and an exhilaration as much more delightful as the natural is than the unnatural.”
Willard even writes of the influence of celebrities on bikes, noting “It did me good to notice that the Princesses Louise and Beatrice [daughters of the British Queen Victoria] both ride the tricycle at Balmoral [castle, an estate belonging to Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert]. I know that with the great mass of feminine humanity this precedent will have exceeding weight — and where the tricycle prophesies the bicycle shall ere long preach the gospel of outdoors.”
You can find her world view entwined like throughout her narrative of her adventures with her bicycle “Gladys.” The original text and illustration from her book is available online through the California Digital Library, where you can also find PDF, EPUB, Kindle as well as other formats. If you prefer a dead tree edition, this modern reprint is available through Amazon or from Bookshop Santa Cruz.
In her conclusion, Ms. Willard encourages the elderly to learn to ride:
Consider, ye who are of a considerable chronology: in less than a single day as the almanac reckons time but practically in two days of actual practice amid the delightful surroundings of the great outdoors, and inspired by the bird-songs, the color and fragrance of an English posy-garden, in the company of devoted and pleasant comrades, I had made myself master of the most remarkable, ingenious, and inspiring motor ever yet devised upon this planet.
Moral: Go thou and do likewise!
As with other historical figures I mention here, I give the briefest introduction with the hope that you’ll investigate further. Wheel Within a Wheel is an enjoyable and quick read.