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BUTLER COUNTY BEGINNINGS Bicycles and better roads

BY ANNIE CRENSHAW

 

Bicycles first arrived in the United States in large cities, and then made their way across the country.

The first “two wheel velocipede” in Evansville, Indiana, made its appearance in February 1869. It created “a great furore” as a Mr. Hugo exhibited it to “the astonished multitudes.” With pedals, handlebars and brakes, it was soon captivating audiences everywhere.

Astonishing, captivating, amazing…it didn’t take people long to catch on, latch on, and get on. The bicycle, that is.

Alabama hopped quickly onto the bicycle bandwagon.

The Wetumpka Gazette reported in June 1869: “The velocipede excitement is up to fever heat just now, and the rink is crowded with noviciates… We were considerably amused to see the young men of our city the other night trying to control the unruly bicycles.”

The Mobile Tribune described a marathon 650-mile bicycle ride by an enthusiast in 1875 as a feat that had “attracted some attention in what is called the bicycling world.”

The Alabama port city news editor wasn’t optimistic about that “bicycling world,” though. He wrote: “…at present, most people prefer horses, or even to go afoot.”

Many people agreed with him. Critics were still waiting for the “fad” to collapse.

But the fad continued. Bicycles weren’t just popular with men; women were taking to cycling enthusiastically.

Not only were women participating in what was considered a man’s sport, they actually began wearing shorter skirts, and divided skirts, when riding bicycles, thereby shedding pounds of crinolines, corsets and petticoats. Whew!

To some folks, that kind of activity and dress (or undress) was immoral, unethical, and detrimental to women’s health and mental well-being. After all, women were the WEAKER sex. Right?

The Right Reverend E. Cleveland Coxe (1818-1896), a serious Episcopal bishop in New York, declared that bicycling wasn’t appropriate for the female gender. He made the personal statement (in a New York newspaper) that “Women on bicycles look like witches on broomsticks.”

Modesty was “indispensable to character in women,” Bishop Coxe wrote, which made bicycling “ridiculous” for them.

There speaks a man who never had to wear a whale-bone corset and ten pounds of petticoats! Did he not think that women might be glad to shed a few garments when exercising?

We wonder what his wife and other females in his family and congregations thought. Many of them probably agreed with him, considering modesty at a time when women weren’t even supposed to show their ankles. But some progressive (and practical) women in the Bishop’s circle may have been a little disgruntled at his pronouncements.

Women cyclists even began to wear BLOOMERS – not the fancy, lace-trimmed undergarments of Victorian fame, but the unrestrictive outer outfit for women advocated by Amelia Jenks Bloomer in the early 1850s.

Don’t you love knowing how things got their names?

Bloomers weren’t created by Mrs. Bloomer, but her name became associated with them though her strong promotion of comfort and convenience in female attire.

 

Learn more about Butler County history with membership in The Butler County Historical & Genealogical Society, P. O. Box 561, Greenville, AL 36037. Read more about Butler County’s Beginnings here – http://sites.rootsweb.com/~albchgs/, and, look for BCHGS on Facebook.

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