“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” – Irina Dunn
The 1890s was marked by an obsession with bicycles given that it was a new technology at the time. More than two million bicycles were sold in 1897 alone. This has inevitably shocked both economic and social foundations. But most importantly, this new technology has become a notorious emblem of women’s rights and political force. Women gained physical mobility as they learned to ride bicycles. As a natural consequence, women found a new sense of freedom by being able to move far beyond their own neighbourhoods.
Gradually women discarded the fashion of Victorian era which consisted of clothing which restricted movement. In contrast, cycling required a type of clothing which was less-movement restricting and practical. It was precisely this new dress reform that challenged popular notions of femininity and adequate female behaviour.
The bicycle brought about social changes that were not just limited to new perceptions of femininity and changes in fashion, but also increased women’s sense of mobility given that women with bicycles were no longer dependent on a man for transportation. Such is the significance of the bicycle in Women’s Liberation Movement that in 1896 Susan B. Anthony said that it “has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”