Maria E Ward wrote the first practical bicycle manual specifically for women. Known to her friends at Violet, her landmark book titled Bicycling For Ladies was something of a shocker when its first edition was printed. The Victorian Era was fading and the latest bicycle boom was in full swing. But Maria E Ward drove female cyclists to a new level of independence with her practical manual that encouraged ladies to take control of mechanics.
Maria E Ward’s book was published in 1896. It was the same year that famed leader of the American women’s movement Susan B. Anthony, was featured in a New York World article. She said that bicycling”
“has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.”
Women embraced the independence and athleticism that bicycling offered. They were riding solo and in groups, joining clubs and participating in tours. In 1895 Annie Londonderry cycled around the globe.
Ward (1863-1941)was born in Manhattan, New York. The daughter of General William Greene Ward and Emily Graham Ward, she later lived in Staten Island with her parents and sister.
In addition to riding, trailblazer Maria E. Ward advocated for women knowing how to maintain and fix their own bicycles.
In Bicycling for Ladies Ward wrote:
“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.” (P.112)
By the Gay-Nineties safety bicycles were fine-tuned to accommodate female riders.
“The women’s safety, allowing for women’s dress, helped boost the bicycles popularity even more. By the 1890s, the safety bicycle could be used by everyone, regardless of age or gender, for both transportation and recreation.” (Library of Congress)
The bicycle craze reached peaked in the 1890s with millions of riders worldwide. Many of those riders were female.
Athletic Options Opened To The New Woman
The world was racing toward the modern era, but many people still believed women should not engage in any activities that built muscle. Others were redefining the concept of female beauty. Annette Kellermann was an evangelist for the power of swimming to build good health and beauty through muscular development. Women were playing tennis in the Olympics. And self-defense classes empowered women to develop their strength, agility and awareness. And there was Maria E. Ward.
Known to her friends as Violet, she championed female participation in athletics of all types. In addition to bicycling she enjoyed tennis and golf, both of which were new recreational options for women. She joined the American Association for the Advancement of Physical Education. She was also a member of the St. Nicholas Skating Club of Manhattan.
In the first chapter of Bicycling for Ladies, Ward writes:
“Too much cannot be said of the benefits to be derived from out-door exercise; and one of the best features of bicycling is that it brings so many to enjoy out-door life who would otherwise have little of either fresh air or exercise. Proper oxidation is necessary to perfect health.” P.6
Alice Austen Illustrated Bicycling For Ladies
Famed photographer Alice Austen was Maria E Ward’s friend, colleague and neighbor on Staten Island. Through her photojournalistic work, Austen documented an emerging lifestyle of the New Woman in motion on Staten Island.
Her photographs show friends often from an elite society socializing, picnicking and playing in the mountains and beaches. Often they were engaged in bowling parties or the new game of lawn tennis and bicycling. They were on the cusp of dramatic changes that ultimately defined a new era. Young people had new freedoms to mingle without chaperones. Women’s clothing was less confining to accommodate new athletic opportunities. And new forms of transportation allowed people to travel.
Alice Austen and Ward were in the center of these dramatic changes — both as a participant and a photojournalist.
According to UrbanArchive.org Alice Austen and Ward created the illustrations for the book on a makeshift set in the lawn of Austen’s house at Clear Comfort. The model was Daisy Elliott who was a gymnast and gym manager in Manhattan.
Because photographs could not yet be reproduced in books, Austen’s works were turned into hand-drawn illustrations.
A Few Highlights From Bicycling For Ladies
Much of this groundbreaking book details nitty-gritty aspects of bicycling. Through knowledge of mechanics Maria E Ward believed women could forge independent lives that broke boundaries of acceptable female behavior.
Chapter Headings In Bicycling For Ladies Include:
-What the Bicycle Does
-The Art of Wheeling on a Bicycle
-Position and Power
-Mechanics of Bicycling
-Women and Tools
-Tools and How to Use Them
From Chapter XV — Solving a Problem:
“Careful examination of your wheel should always be made before starting for even a short ride; and on returning it is well to test gear and pedals, to look at spokes and tires. Any needed repair can be noted, and attended to at convenience. Always examine your bicycle thoroughly after a collision, for shocks are dangerous even to the toughest metal, and such precaution may prevent a serious accident.” p. 125
From Chapter XVIII–Mechanics of Bicycling:
“All applied mechanical power is the application of lever movement (and lever movement is but the effect of applied power), either simple, compound, or complex.
In the bicycle propelled by human power, we have a series of lever movements, initiated and executed by the highest and most effective mechanism known—the human body, applied human power. There is the seat of power, the point of application, and the object. The bicycle or object is so constructed that it continues the application of power applied.” P 156
From CHAPTER XXI—Training:
“If you intend a fifty-mile or a week’s trip awheel, it will be very necessary to accustom yourself to the work before attempting a distance you have not yet covered. Suppose, though your muscles are unaccustomed to long-continued exercise, that you know how to wheel a bicycle and are anxious to go with your friends. They perhaps wheel for an hour or two hours daily, or for several hours twice a week. They are afraid to take you with them; and you feel sure that you can go as far as they do, and at the same rate of speed.” P. 175
“On returning from a ride the wheel should have a thorough going over, the enamel dusted, and any mud washed off with a wet sponge. The chain, if your machine has one, should be taken off every two or three hundred miles of dusty road, and soaked in kerosene over night; the nickel or metal well dusted, rubbed with a chamois, and polished; and all the bearings, axles, and gear carefully wiped, and dust and grit removed. Then the chain should be replaced, oiled, graphited, and the bearings oiled.” P 126
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