Gloria Steinem once said that “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” Well, sometimes a woman just needs a bicycle. According to the legendary Susan B. Anthony, the bicycle did more to emancipate women than “anything else in the world.”
If you lived in the last decades of the 1800s, a bike was the “it” thing to have. For the Victorian woman, riding a bicycle also required ditching the corset and donning bloomers.
For some in those days, a woman on a bicycle was an abomination that would lead to the downfall of society. Doctors warned bike-riding women about organ failure and infertility. They also warned about “bicycle face”: red cheeks, bulging eyes, and, God forbid, dementia.
For the more enlightened though, a woman on a bicycle zipping around town was a symbol of “the new woman,” gleefully riding into a future that promised all kinds of new opportunities for “the fairer sex.”
“Who is this new woman?...She is the woman who dares to go into the world and do what her convictions demand,” wrote Hannah G. Solomon, founder of the National Council of Jewish Women. Solomon was no stranger to pushing the limits on women’s behavior in a male-dominated society. She believed that women’s sphere included “the whole wide world.”
We don’t know if Hannah G. Solomon was part of the bike craze, but she was undoubtedly a “new woman.” She was an outspoken activist for social reform. She named her organization the National Council of Jewish Women, very intentionally calling it a women’s organization and not a “ladies’ club.”
Read her story in Hannah G. Solomon Dared to Make a Difference.