Author Roger Gilles has completed some extensive research into bicycling in the late 1880’s and early 1900’s. He has uncovered a gem of history for women and how it likely was the first professional sport for female athletes. In the 1890’s bicycling was at its peak with everyone looking to ride their bike. It was not just boys but men and later the women took to leisurely riding the bike. This was a time without automobiles.
Whenever people are riding it became common to race other riders. Society tried to dissuade women from bicycle racing but they showed their grit and prevailed into their own racing league. Safety became paramount as the women began from 1895 to 1902 to enjoy riding and racing. For those seven years, women raced as people flocked to the arenas and venues and areas that they raced in. The best were Tillie Anderson, Lizzie Glaw and Dottie Farnsworth.
Races were set up in Kansas City, St. Louis, New Orleans, Indianapolis, Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit among other spots in the country. The rules were very structured as they were scheduled times for a fast-paced six-day race that became highly competitive. Still, there was a strong opposition to the women racing as the female frailty came into question. The League of American Wheelmen went on an intensive campaign to marginalize the women and bicycle racing. Their efforts reach a zenith after two bicycle racers died in 1902. The sport of bicycle racing for women came to an abrupt halt.
The book is a joy to read as the sport of women’s bicycle racing has become a forgotten part of sports and the people and events during this seven-year period deserve their place in sports history.
Thanks to the University of Nebraska Publishing for the book copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.