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Women’s (Bike) History: Maria Ward

Even before the turn of the century, Maria Ward was teaching women to wrench. During the bicycle craze of the 1890s, Ward published a popular book aimed at getting more women riding. But “Bicycling for Ladies” was more than a primer on choosing a bike and learning to ride. Ward aimed to empower women by teaching them to master their machines, as well. According to Sheila Hanlon, a bicycle researcher in London:

“Bicycling for Ladies was a catch-all guide to cycling, covering everything from choosing a bicycle and learning to ride to health and dress. What distinguished Ward’s manual from the wider genre of women’s cycling instruction — the majority of which was aimed at leisure riders and focused on genteel riding etiquette — was its attention to mechanical detail. Among its more forward-thinking chapters were “Women and Tools” and “Mechanics of Bicycling.” Ward’s objective was to emancipate her lady cyclist readers by teaching them the “laws of mechanics and physiology.” Ward explained her approach in the introduction to “Women and Tools,” writing: “Most women can sew on a button or run up a seam; sewing, in fact, is regarded rather as a feminine in-stinct than an art… I hold that any woman who is able to use a needle or scissors can use other tools equally well. It is a very important matter for a bicyclist to be acquainted with all parts of the bicycle, their uses and adjustment. Many a weary hour would be spared were a little proper attention given at the right time to your machine.”

Lucky for us, the whole book — published in 1896 — is online. Check it out here!  

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