A Book about Bikes

16785279.jpg I received a very nice surprise in my mailbox today. I came home to find an envelope that looked like it held a book, so I figured it was my latest Book Mooch request, but when I looked at the envelope more closely, I saw that it was from Stefanie. It turns out she and her husband had an extra copy of Frances Willard’s book A Wheel Within a Wheel and decided to send it along to me. Aren’t they the coolest?

I’m so pleased with my new book. I love the picture on the front cover, and I rather desperately want it turned into a poster so I can hang it in my study or my office (or both). The book was originally published in 1895 and was reprinted in the 1990s by Applewood Books. It’s a very short book, about 80 pages, and it tells the story of how Willard learned to ride a bike when she was 53 years old. Willard, the back of my book tells me, was the founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and was a well-known suffragette. The back cover offers this quotation from the book about Willard’s cycling costume:

[It] consisted of a skirt and blouse of tweed, with belt, rolling collar, and loose cravat, the skirt three inches from the ground; a round straw hat, and walking-shoes with gaiters. It was a simple, modest suit, to which no person of common sense could take exception.

I’m suspecting she might be horrified by what people wear on their bike rides today. Or perhaps not — I should read the book before I guess what her reaction would be to today’s not-at-all modest cycling outfits.

I’ve read only the first two pages, but already I’ve fallen in love with the book. I can’t resist quoting from the beginning:

… Born with an inveterate opposition to staying in the house, I very early learned to use a carpenter’s kit and a gardener’s tools, and followed in my mimic way the occupations of the poulterer and the farmer, working my little field with a wooden plow of my own making, and felling saplings with an ax rigged up from the old iron of the wagon-shop. Living in the country, far from the artificial restraints and conventions by which most girls are hedged from the activities that would develop a good physique, and endowed with the companionship of a mother who let me have my own sweet will, I “ran wild” until my sixteenth birthday, when the hampering long skirts were brought, with their accompanying corset and high heels; my hair was clubbed up with pins, and I remember writing in my journal, in the first heartbreak of a young human colt taking from its pleasant pasture, “Altogether, I recognize that my occupation is gone.”

How tragic! Oh, I sympathize completely, even though I never experienced such a thing — I know I would have hated it. High heels and corsets! Terrible.

My work then changed from my beloved and breezy outdoor world to the indoor realm of study, teaching, writing, speaking, and went on almost without a break or pain until my fifty-third year, when the loss of my mother accentuated the strain of this long period in which mental and physical life were out of balance, and I fell into a mild form of what is called nerve-wear by the patient and nervous prostration by the lookers-on. Thus ruthlessly thrown out of the usual lines of reaction on my environment, and sighing for new worlds to conquer, I determined that I would learn the bicycle.

“Sighing for new worlds to conquer,” getting mental and physical life into balance, the bicycle as anti-depressant — you can see, can’t you, that I will love this book?


Filed under Books, Cycling, Nonfiction

13 responses to “A Book about Bikes

  1. Good for her for recognizing that not only do we need freedom of mind and occupation, we also need freedom of physical activity. It’s not something you hear much about in contemporary feminism. If anything they try to normalize unhealthy lifestyes to assuage body image concerns. I don’t know that they’re doing us any favours with that approach. It’s kind of hard to feel bad about yourself when you’re out filling your lungs and having fun.


  2. Yay for bookish surprises! 😀


  3. What a nice surprise. And what a cool woman. This book sounds perfect for you! Can you imagine corsets? Sometimes I try and imagine what it must have been like for women and then thank heavens that I can wear sweatpants and tennis shoes whenever I like! Talk about keeping women in their place. Yuck. Do you think she was wearing a corset on her bicycle? Now that’s talent (you wonder how the poor woman breathed!).


  4. It sounds like a gem of a book.


  5. That IS undoubtedly a very cool picture. I hope you get it into a poster somehow!


  6. “…you can see, can’t you, that I will love this book?” All, I can add to that is: Who wouldn’t? Looking forward to more comments as you progress.

    Now, back to working on my nerve-wear.


  7. I love little books like this. A thought occurs…perhaps my university library has a copy… 🙂


  8. Oooooh, this sounds like a great book. How wonderful and gutsy she sounds! Imagine learning to ride a bike at that age — and wearing all those clothes at the same time! 😉


  9. Sylvia — I love your last sentence! You’re right; if you’re out being active, it’s hard to feel bad about yourself and the world.

    Stefanie — yes, indeed! 🙂

    Danielle — I don’t know; I’ll have to find out about the corset and riding. I kind of doubt it though. And yes, thank GOD I’m living today in the place I’m living — otherwise, as a woman, life probably would suck.

    Kate — yes, I’m so glad to have a copy!

    Litlove — wouldn’t that be fabulous? I wonder who could make it for me …

    Bikkuri — oh, I’ll be certain to post more on this book. Isn’t “nerve-wear” a nicely evocative phrase?

    Victoria — if your library has it, I’m sure you could read it in an hour or two — it’s so short. Be sure to check out the pictures!

    Kimbofo — yes, she sounds like a fascinating figure, doesn’t she?


  10. They are the coolest! What a sweet surprise. I hope you can find a way to get that cover into a poster. Maybe you could take it to a Kinko’s or something like that.


  11. Miss Volare

    Interesting how when all the internal combustion engines have gone, we will get the chance to rule the road–such an elegant form of transportation, so efficient, enviro and healthful. Thanks for the link…nice blog!


  12. Good idea, Iliana!

    Miss Volare — thank you, and you are right, the bicycle is such an elegant machine!


  13. That cover kind of scares me. It reminds me of the Wicked Witch riding her bike after stuffing Toto in her picnic basket. And “The Wizard of Oz,” incidentally, still gives me nightmares, especially with the flying monkeys.


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