Review: Wheels of Change by Sue Macy
Title: Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way)
Author: Macy, Sue
Length: 96 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Young Adult, History
Publisher / Year: National Geographic Children’s Books / 2011
Source: Purchased from Amazon.
Why I Read It: I’ve been biking more locally, and this looked like an interesting look at the history of women biking.
Date Read: 16/06/12
“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.” Susan B Anthony in “Champion of Her Sex” by Nellie Bly, New York World, February 2, 1896 (page 77)
In this book Macy has compiled a history of the bicycle as it relates to women. She covers the early history of bicycling, advancements in the bikes themselves (and the various names they’ve had through the years!), racing and women racing, clothing, road conditions, and more. It may surprise many to hear how much history can actually be traced back to the bicycle. Road ways were improved for them, women’s clothing restrictions lessened, women could exercise more, women had more freedom to come and go, and more. Of course, there were also people who were vocally against the bicycle for women. The book contains many quotes from both sides of the debate, some of which I’ve shared through this review.
“Many a girl has come to her ruin through a spin on a country road.” Charlotte Smith, Brooklyn Eagle, August 20, 2896 (page 28)
Also included throughout the book are images from the time of women bicycling and many images from advertisements. These images and excerpts give the book a fun and engaging feel while still being informative. Macy covers quite a bit of the early history in the United States and includes many materials from the time. The book is well-researched and also well-written.
As with many of the non-fiction books coming from the US, my main issue was that the book was heavily US focused. Although Britain was mentioned a couple of times in passing, as the source of many of the advancements, the people who were discussed were the Americans who brought the advancements in bicycling to the US or manufactured them locally rather than those whose ideas originated the advancements. The rest of us (read: non-Americans) can read the book and enjoy it, but we certainly won’t find much about bicycling outside of the US.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote that the bicycle taught “an equality in social relations without distinction as to color or previous conditions of servitude.” (page 81)
Recommended for those who like history, want to know more about women and bicycling, enjoy biking, or for children and teens who want to learn a bit more about the history of the United States and the part the bicycle played in it.