The Cycling Craze of the 1890s:
A Story of Race, Gender, Sport and Society
Sunday, May 3, 2015 at 3 pm
Cycling Club, 1880s
Join us in welcoming Lorenz J. Finison as he presents his latest book, Boston’s Cycling Craze, 1880-1900. Lorenz examines cycling in the Bay State and its social implications for the men and women who dared to join the craze on two and three wheels! He will also discuss the connections of Valley cyclists to the larger movement.
The evolutionary ancestor of the modern bicycle was invented in Germany in 1817 (two wheels but no pedals). By the early 1860s it had evolved to the French "boneshaker" and then, by 1877, to something more like the bicycles we ride today.
The Boston Bicycle Club, founded that year, was the first in the nation, and the city’s cyclists formed the nucleus of a new national organization, the League of American Wheelmen. Massachusetts had the largest per capita membership in the league in the 1890s and the largest percentage of women members. Cycling magazines published in Boston made cycling a growing cultural influence as well as a form of recreation.
Yet cycling in Boston was controversial from the first day a wheelman took to the streets. Then as now, the tension arose over who deserves space and who is at fault: the cyclist or the driver—whether that driver commanded a horse-drawn wagon or an automobile.
From 1877 to 1896, the popularity of the bicycle increased exponentially. By 1882 there were bicycling clubs in Northampton, Greenfield, Springfield, West Springfield, Easthampton, Wilbraham, Holyoke, Chicopee, and Westfield. The great bicycle exposition at Hampden Park in September of that year included racing men from all over the Valley, and the internationally famous lady high-wheeler, Louise Armaindo. Northampton Fairgrounds was a frequent racing venue throughout the era and, according to one newspaper account, bicycling created just as much interest as the "horse-trot."
Lorenz J. Finison, author of Boston's Cycling Craze, explores the rise of bicycling through the lives of several participants, among them Kittie Knox, a biracial twenty-year old seamstress, Mary Sargent Hopkins, publisher of theWheelwoman, and Abbot Bassett, a vocal cycling advocate for forty years. Finison reveals the challenges facing these riders in a time of segregation, increased immigration and resistance to it, and debates about the roles of women in athletics and society. The controversies in Boston reached beyond bike vs. wagon to clashes about race, gender, class, ethnicity, and even religion.
Lorenz Finison earned a BA from Wesleyan University and a PhD from Columbia University and taught most recently at Boston University School of Public Health. Finison was a founding board member of Cycling Through History: The Massachusetts African American Heritage Bike Route and is a member of the Charles River Wheelmen, MassBike, and the Boston Cyclists Union. He has presented papers at the International Cycle History Conference in recent years. His family has strong Northampton roots. Several collections of papers, pictures, books, and other artifacts from the family are at Historic Northampton and Smith College Special Collections.