Did you know that Susan B. Anthony, a fearless leader in the American suffrage movement, believed in the power of bicycles, especially for women? Her famous bicycle quote begins: “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” That’s a strong endorsement from someone who fought for 40 years to earn women the fundamental citizen’s right to vote.
To honor women like Susan B. Anthony during Women’s History Month, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition hosted a Women’s History Bike Ride around the city. Margaret, the new volunteer coordinator at SFBC, was our enthusiastic host. Her passion for the women who broke tradition to give us the rights we take for granted today shone through at every stop in our leisurely two hour tour.
At our first stop Margaret told us how Susan B Anthony bullied poll officials and dropped her ballot in the election box in 1872 (nearly 50 years before it was legal) and how she successfully fought her case in court. Despite being denied the chance to testify and being convicted of voter fraud, she never paid a dime of her fine.
The second stop focused on fashion and how the need for less constrictive clothing in general dovetailed with the need for sportier bicycling clothing, an effort spearheaded by Amelia Bloomer. Every woman who wears pants today should tip their hats to Amelia for paving the way to split-legged efficiency and comfort.
Next was a stop at a corner in Japantown where suffrage supporters held a victory party after women were finally granted the right to vote in 1920. All it took was a mother’s letter to her Senator son imploring him to be a good boy and vote for ratification. Sadly, Susan B. Anthony died before she could legally cast a vote.
At our final stop Margaret told the story of Annie Londonderry, a petite young woman from Boston who left her three children with her husband and rode her bike around the world. Why? Who knows Annie’s true motivation, but I’d like to think that she’s not that different than we women today who challenge ourselves with daring rides. Then again, how many of us have the chance to win $10,000 in prize money?
We ended the tour with cupcakes, but not before Margaret read us the rest of Susan B. Anthony’s bicycle quote, which rings true over 100 years later: “[Bicycling] gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”
What does bicycling do for you? Are bikes freedom, self-reliance or something other than that?