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man and woman on bicycles

Bicycles gave women more freedom than they had traditionally had -- including, as this illustration shows, the freedom to conduct a courtship out of the watch of their parents. (Illustration by Edmund G. Fuller, published by Henry Graves & Company, London. More about the illustration)

photographs of women's leisure activities

A magazine portrayed these “diversions of the summer girl” in 1896, which included tennis, sailing, bicycling, and going to the beach. About the illustration

The New York Sun editorializes thus:

The women of the Southern States have been much slower than their Northern sisters in the utilization of the bicycle. They are affected by the conservatism of the South, which looks askance at any novelty, and very many of them yet think that bicycling is highly improper for a woman. We have frequently noticed remarks to this effect in Southern papers, and we recently learned that women in several places there had been brought under discipline for bicycling.

The prodigious cycling boom of this year in New York has already told upon the South.

By this time there are lots of women bicyclers in Virginia and Georgia; there are a smaller number in Alabama and Louisiana; there are fewer yet in South Carolina; there are very few in Arkansas; we have not heard of any in Mississippi; the Northern women in Florida have introduced the wheel there.

We do not believe that the conservatism of Southern women can much longer resist the wheel; the Texas and North Carolina girls seem to be ready for it; we think it is bound to attract the fair sex even in the Bayou State.

It is not undignified for a woman to ride a bicycle. She does not lower herself by wheeling. To ride upon it at full speed does not cut into the pride of womanhood. That pride exists in the North not less than in the South.

sketch of women wearing bloomers

This sketch from the British magazine Punch in 1851 warned of “A probable incident if bloomerism isn’t put down.” About the illustration

The Sun speaks of Texas and North Carolina together because, as it said some weeks ago, it considers these the two most progressive and promising of the Southern States. We can say to it that the bicycle is no new thing to the women of North Carolina — they have been riding it for four years or more, and its popularity is increasing among them.

If the venerable and accomplished editor of the Sun should come to Charlotte again, take another meal at Gresham’s and stay over just one fine evening, he could see numbers of ladies spinning along over the beautiful streets of this city and over the macadamized roads leading out of it. Female bicyclists? Well, we should think! And not only bicycles, but we have been given notice, in the most confidential manner possible, that we may soon begin to look around for bloomers. North Carolina a progressive State? Yea, verily. Her women not only ready for bicycles, but riding them, and now ready for bloomers.