Willard’s Wheel

19th-century photograph of F. Willard on her bicycle Gladys, supported by two women
Frances Willard on “Gladys”

In 1895, prominent temperance activist and feminist Frances Willard published A Wheel within a Wheel, an account of learning to ride a bicycle at the age of 53.

In the 1890s, the bicycle as we know it (two equally sized wheels with a chain driving the rear wheel) was very new. As women began to ride these new contraptions, they challenged a whole range of ideas about women and their role in society. proper clothing, physical fitness, independence,

These challenges included changes in ideas about proper clothing, about physical fitness, and about women’s independence. For Willard, learning to ride the bicycle was also connected to political struggles of her time, such as women’s suffrage (the right to vote for women in the U.S. and elsewhere) and the temperance movement (which attempted to ban recreational drugs such as alcohol and tobacco).

A full scan of Willard’s book is available on Google Books.