Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires A

Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires A

Sue Macy
Nonfiction
For ages 10 and up
National Geographic Children's Books, 2011   ISBN: 978-1426307614

In the early to mid 1800’s, women did not have the kinds of freedoms that many girls and women take for granted today. In those days, women did not own property, they did not go out unchaperoned, there were very few job opportunities open to them, and they were expected to wear long skirts, corsets, and other restrictive clothing. If they wanted to go out, they had to either walk on foot, ride on a horse, or ride in some kind of horse-pulled conveyance (with a chaperone in attendance of course).

Then several inventors came up with a strange looking two-wheeled machine called a velocipede that people could sit on and ride. The early models of these machines were heavy, difficult to ride, and they shook the rider so much that they were often called “boneshakers.” Then, in 1876, a man called Albert Pope saw models of British-made bicycles at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. He became interested in the machines, and decided found his own American bicycle company. In addition to building bicycles, he set about educating the American public about their use, and lobbying to improve road conditions so that cyclists could safely ride on them.

Pope and the bicycle makers who came after him never imagined that their machines would have a profound effect on the lives of women, but they did. Once “safety” bicycles came on the market (bicycles with two wheels that were same size), women began to see that bicycles could give then opportunities that they had never had before. They could take a ride without having to depend on someone else. Women of all kinds thought that the use of bicycles should be encouraged, especially those who were part of the suffragist movement. They saw all too clearly that the bicycle gave women a freedom that they had never experienced before.

Even the restrictive fashions of the times had to change to accommodate the needs of women cyclists. Though there was a lot of resistance to “bloomers” and other trouser type garments, women did, eventually, manage to win the battle against cumbersome dresses, layers of petticoats, and excruciating corsets.

In this fascinating and carefully researched book, Sue Macy tells the true story of how bicycles helped women to break free of their restricted lives. Readers will come to appreciate how these machines were a tool that women could use to literally ride away from stifling societal rules and conventions. Packed with information about the women’s rights movement, the history of bicycles, and other bicycle-related topics, this is a book that will both entertain and enlighten readers of all ages.

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