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Women’s (Bike) History: Belva Lockwood

Guest post by April Streeter, author of Women on Wheels

Breaking ground in women’s cycling back in the early decades of biking wasn’t just for the racing types like Tillie Anderson and Louise Armaindo. A strong, audacious woman named Belva Lockwood is considered Washington DC’s first female cyclist.

Born in 1830, Lockwood was used to breaking down gender barriers. A schoolmistress who wanted to study law before women were “allowed,” she got tutoring and set up practice in the nation’s capital in the late 1870s. Lockwood soon noticed that her lawyer-ly colleagues were delivering documents by bicycle, speeding up their work considerably by way of two wheels.

She was a well-known figure in D.C., always dressed conservatively in a black velvet gown, which made riding the high-wheeled bicycle virtually impossible. Lockwood instead chose an adult tricycle as her transport of choice. Even displaying an inch of ankle was considered by some immodest, and Lockwood caused quite a stir with her “wheel.”

Such a stir, in fact, that Lockwood says President Grover Cleveland issued an “edict” telling the wives of his Cabinet officers that he did not wish them to ride bicycles.

In March 1879, Belva was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court, the first woman to ever appear there. In 1884 Lockwood used her “wheel” to get to the post office to mail her letter accepting a nomination as presidential candidate – for the National Equal Rights Party.

She received over 4,000 votes, an amazing feat considering her women supporters didn’t yet have the right to vote. In 1890, the Wheel and Cycling Trade Review reported that Lockwood – now 60 years old – had retired her tricycle and “now devotes herself to the ladies’ safety, on which she is as expert a rider as she was on the three-wheeled machine.”

Read more about women in the bike movement in April’s book, Women on Wheels…  

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