Female Cycling and the Discourse of Moral Panic in Late Victorian Britain
AbstractThis article discusses the role of cycling in women’s emancipation in late Victorian Britain and explores the attitudes of the middle-class public to women’s pursuit of this recreational activity. The unique combination of healthy physical exercise, unrestrained mobility and sporting excitement that the bicycle offered elevated cycling into one of the epoch’s most popular leisure activities. For women, the bicycle became an important instrument to break away from the constraints of the androcentric paternalistic culture that stereotyped them and cast them in the passive role of the angel in the house. The immense popularity of bicycling with middle- and upper-class women and the inevitable changes in patterns of female leisure, clothing and normative behaviour it involved, caused strong reaction from the bourgeois establishment. An analysis of opinions published in the British press at the time reveals a discourse marked by anxiety that cycling might become an avenue for women to claim more independence for themselves and even subvert the established social framework based on power relations and a clear delineation of gender roles.Keywords: women; cycling; late Victorian period; gender roles; press; prejudice
Aberdeen Evening Express. June 8, 1894. [Accessed online on August 10, 2018].
Advertiser for Somerset. September 13, 1894. [Accessed online on August 1, 2018].
Blackburn Standard. August 18, 1888. [Accessed online on July 12, 2018].
Boston Guardian. September 12, 1896. [Accessed online on July 11, 2018].
British Medical Journal. January 2, 1875. [Accessed online on October 16, 2019].
Cecil, Evelyn. 1907. London Parks and Gardens. London: Constable. [Accessed online on November 10, 2018].
Citizen. June 20, 1894. [Accessed online on August 10, 2018].
Dundee Evening Telegraph. August 19, 1878. [Accessed online on July 31, 2018].
—. May 29, 1894. [Accessed online on August 9, 2018].
Erskine, F. J. (1897) 2014. Lady Cycling: What to Wear and How to Ride. Abingdon: British Library.
Girl’s Own Paper. February 18, 1899. [Accessed online on July 12, 2019].
—. March 4, 1899. [Accessed online on July 12, 2019].
Grand, Sarah. 1894. “The New Aspect of the Woman Question.” North American Review. 158 (448): 270-76.
Hayward, Ben. 1888. All Else of No Avail. London: Hurst and Blackett.
Leeds Times. February 4, 1899. [Accessed online on July 17, 2018].
Leicester Chronicle. June 27, 1896. [Accessed online on August 1, 2018].
Lincolnshire Echo. February 23, 1894. [Accessed online on July 17, 2018].
London Evening Standard. November 19, 1895. [Accessed online on July 17, 2018].
London and Provincial Entr’acte. December 7, 1895. [Accessed online on August 12, 2018].
Ludlow Advertiser. August 30, 1890. [Accessed online on August 7, 2018].
Manchester Guardian. October 22, 1894. [Accessed online on July 10, 2019].
Pall Mall Gazette. January 7, 1896. [Accessed online on July 25, 2018].
Patmore, Coventry. (1854) 1891. The Angel in the House. London, Paris and Melbourne: Cassell.
Ruskin, John. (1865) 1998. Sesame and Lilies. Project Gutenberg. [Accessed online on July 1, 2019].
Shepton Mallet Journal. August 31, 1894. [Accessed online on August 5, 2018].
St James’ Gazette. November 20, 1895. [Accessed online on August 14, 2018].
Supplement to the Cheltenham Chronicle. June 27, 1896. [Accessed online on August 8, 2018].
Times. November 21, 1895. [Accessed online on July 1, 2019].
—. April 6, 1899. [Accessed online on July 1, 2019].
Wells, H. G. 1896. The Wheels of Chance: A Bicycling Idyll. Project Gutenberg. [Accessed online on July 2, 2019].
Wheelwoman. October 16, 1897. [Accessed online on July 4, 2019].
—. January 8, 1898. [Accessed online on July 4, 2019].
—. March 19, 1898. [Accessed online on July 4, 2019].
—. April 30, 1898. [Accessed online on July 4, 2019].
—. May 21, 1898. [Accessed online on July 11, 2019].
—. June 18, 1898. [Accessed online on July 11, 2019].
—. June 25, 1898. [Accessed online on July 11, 2019].
Wheelwoman and Society Cycling News. September 26, 1896. [Accessed online on July 3, 2019].
Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald. November 16, 1895. [Accessed online on July 24, 2018].
Anderson, Nancy Fix. 2010. The Sporting Life: Victorian Sports and Games. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
Burstyn, Joan H. 1980. Victorian Education and the Ideal of Womanhood. London: Croom Helm.
Carstens, Lisa. 2011. “Unbecoming Women: Sex Reversal in the Scientific Discourse on Female Deviance in Britain, 1880-1920.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 20 (1): 62-94.
Cook, Hera. 2012. “Emotion, Bodies, Sexuality, and Sex Education in Edwardian England.” The Historical Journal 55 (2): 475-95.
Cordery, Simon. 1995. “Friendly Societies and the Discourse of Respectability in Britain, 1825-1875.” Journal of British Studies 34 (1): 35-58.
Flanders, Judith. 2007. Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain. London, New York, Toronto and Sydney: Harper Perennial.
Gilles, Roger. 2018. Women on the Move: The Forgotten Era of Women’s Bicycle Racing. Lincoln and London: U of Nebraska P.
Gordon, Sarah A. 2001. “‘Any Desired Length’: Negotiating Gender through Sporting Clothing 1870-1925.” In Scranton 2001, 24-51.
Hargreaves, Jennifer A. (1987) 2006. “Victorian Familism and the Formative Years of Female Sport.” In Mangan and Park (1987) 2006, 130-44.
Horton, Dave, Paul Rosen and Peter Cox, eds. 2007. Cycling and Society. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Huggins, Mike. 2004. The Victorians and Sport. London and New York: Hambledon and London.
Huggins, Mike and James Anthony Mangan. 2004a. “Prologue: All Mere Complexities.” In Huggins and Mangan 2004b, ix-xx.
—, eds. 2004b. Disreputable Pleasures: Less Virtuous Victorians at Play. London and New York: Frank Cass.
Jungnickel, Kat. 2018. Bikes and Bloomers: Victorian Women Inventors and their Extraordinary Cycle Wear. Newbridge: Goldsmith.
Ledger, Sally. 1997. The New Woman: Fiction and Feminism at the Fin de Siècle. Manchester: Manchester UP.
Mackintosh, Phillip Gordon and Glen Norcliffe. 2007. “Men, Women and the Bicycle: Gender and Social Geography of Cycling in the Late-Nineteenth Century.” In Horton, Rosen and Cox 2007, 153-78.
Macy, Sue. 2017. Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (with a Few Flat Tyres Along the Way). Boone, NC: National Geographic.
Mangan, James Anthony. 2006a. “The Social Construction of Victorian Femininity: Emancipation, Education and Exercise.” In Mangan 2006b, 135-42.
—, ed. 2006b. A Sport-Loving Society: Victorian and Edwardian Middle-Class at Play. London and New York: Routledge.
Mangan, James Anthony and Roberta J. Park, eds. (1987) 2006. From ‘Fair Sex’ to Feminism: Sport and the Socialization of Women in Industrial and Post-Industrial Eras. London and New York: Routledge.
Marks, Patricia. (1990) 2015. Bicycles, Bangs, and Bloomers: The New Woman in the Popular Press. Lexington: U of Kentucky P.
McCrone, Kathleen E. 2006. “The ‘Lady Blue’: Sport at the Oxbridge Women’s Colleges from their Foundation to 1914.” In Mangan 2006b, 153-76.
—. 2014. Sport and the Physical Emancipation of English Women 1870-1914. London and New York: Routledge.
Nelson, Carolyn Christensen. 2000a. “Sarah Grand on the New Woman: Her Critics Respond.” In Nelson 2000b, 140-41.
—, ed. 2000b. A New Woman Reader: Fiction, Articles, and Drama of the 1890s. Peterborough: Broadview.
Norcliffe, Glenn. 2016. Critical Geographies of Cycling: History, Political Economy and Culture. London and New York: Routledge.
Parratt, Catriona M. 1989. “‘Athletic Womanhood’: Exploring Sources of Female Sport in Victorian and Edwardian England.” Journal of Sport History 16 (2): 140-57.
Pykett, Lyn. 1992. The ‘Improper’ Feminine: The Women’s Sensation Novel and the New Woman Writing. London and New York: Routledge.
Reid, Carlton. 2015. Roads Were Not Built for Cars. Washington, DC: Island.
Rubenstein, David. 1977. “Cycling in the 1890s.” Victorian Studies 21 (1): 47-71.
Scranton, Philip, ed. 2001. Beauty and Business: Commerce, Gender, and Culture in Modern America. New York and London: Routledge.
Simpson, Clare S. 2007. “Capitalising on Curiosity: Women’s Professional Cycle Racing in the Late-Nineteenth Century.” In Horton, Rosen and Cox 2007, 47-66.
Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll. 1985. Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America. New York and Oxford: Oxford UP.
Tosh, John. 2005. “Masculinities in an Industrializing Society: Britain, 1800-1914.” Journal of British Studies 44 (2): 330-42.
Vertinsky, Patricia A. 1987. “Exercise, Physical Capability, and the Eternally Wounded Woman in Late Nineteenth Century North America.” Journal of Sport History 14 (1): 7-27.
—. 1990. The Eternally Wounded Woman: Women, Exercise and Doctors in the Late Nineteenth Century. Manchester and New York: Manchester UP.
Vickery, Amanda. 1993. “Golden Age to Separate Spheres? A Review of the Categories and Chronology of English Women’s History.” The Historical Journal 36 (2): 383-414.
Waddington, Keir. 2004. “Health and Medicine.” In Williams 2004, 412-29.
Wånggren, Lena. 2017. Gender, Technology and the New Woman. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP.
Weng, Julie McCormick. 2016. “Her ‘Bisexicle,’ Her Body and Her Self-Propulsion in Finnegans Wake.” Journal of Modern Literature 39 (4): 49-66.
Williams, Chris, ed. 2004. A Companion to Nineteenth-Century Britain. Oxford: Blackwell.
Woods, Robert. 2000. The Demography of Victorian England and Wales. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
The authors retain copyright of articles. They authorise AEDEAN to publish them in its journal Atlantis and to include them in the indexing and abstracting services, academic databases and repositories the journal participates in.
Under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), for non-commercial (i.e., personal or academic) purposes only, users are free to share (i.e., copy and redistribute in any medium or format) and adapt (i.e., remix, transform and build upon) articles published in Atlantis, free of charge and without obtaining prior permission from the publisher or the author(s), as long as they give appropriate credit to the author, the journal (Atlantis) and the publisher (AEDEAN), provide the relevant URL link to the original publication and indicate if changes were made. Such attribution may be done in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the journal endorses the user or their use of the material published therein. Users who adapt (i.e., remix, transform or build upon the material) must distribute their contributions under the same licence as the original.
Self-archiving is also permitted, so that authors are allowed to deposit the published PDF version of their articles in academic and/or institutional repositories, without fee or embargo. Authors may also post their individual articles on their personal websites, again on condition that the original link to the online edition is provided.
Authors are expected to know and heed basic ground rules that preclude simultaneous submission and/or duplicate publication. Prospective contributors to Atlantis commit themselves to the following when they submit a manuscript:
- That no concurrent consideration of the same, or almost identical, work by any other journal and/or publisher is taking place.
- That the potential contribution has not appeared previously, in any form whatsoever, in another journal, electronic format or as a chapter/section of a book.
Seeking permission for the use of copyright material is the responsibility of the author.