HLF funded

The Diss Heritage Triangle Trust

Shifting a Gear: Women and the Bicycle, with Diss Cyclathon

Date: 26/05/19 | Author: jessica.vincent

We have teamed with   Diss Cyclathon  to celebrate the centenary celebration of women’s suffrage and looking at the link between women and the bicycle in Diss.

In which way did the bicycle allow for more freedom?

Bicycles meant that women and men could travel further than they had previously been able to travel on foot, opening up many more possibilities for job opportunities, expanding their social scene and general travel.

 

Although there were – and still are – tandem bicycles, the design of the safety bicycle allowed women to ride solo without being chaperoned. This was a big break away from restrictive Victorian attitudes!

 

“Ladies are realizing that dry feet and a dirty bicycle are better than a machine keep clean at the expense of damp feet… It is a practical vehicle for practical use, and except where the roads are absolutely ruinous to tyres, the machine can suffer no possible harm by being ridden in all other places.”
The Diss Express and Norfolk and Suffolk Journal, Friday 1 April 1898, page 8.

How did bicycles allow for more physical freedom for women?

The invention of the bicycle brought the necessity for a change in clothing, which had previously been floor length skirts and corsets. This is particularly as the frame of a bicycle is built so that the rider seats astride the saddle, rather than side saddle.

 

The Rational Dress Society was established in London in 1881 in part to challenge the impracticalities for women of riding bicycles in traditional Victorian dress. The campaign to end ‘irrational’ dress led to the introduction of such clothing garments such as the bloomer!

 “…it must be an extremely fastidious person who would object to some of the costumes, which allow plenty of freedom without trespassing over the boundaries of modesty – a consideration which, as the female cyclist has ‘come to stay,’ is of importance.”
The Diss Express and Norfolk and Suffolk Journal, Friday 29 November 1895, page 2.

In which year did Diss Cycling Club allow women to join?

In April 1898 Diss Cycling Club met at the Crown Hotel and decided to alter the name of the club to ‘Diss and District’. It was also decided that allow ladies to join. This is telling as it implies that the bicycle allowed people from outside of the centre of Diss to enjoy leisurely pursuits such as the cycling club which they might not have otherwise been able to travel to. This inclusivity was offered to both men and women, uniting our rural community across gender and geographic distances.

 

 As far as we are aware, there were 10 men and 3 women in Diss Cycling Club in the 1890s thanks to photographic records in Diss Museum. Considering that the safety bicycle had not long been invented by this time, this is a considerable gender ratio!

Is there a link between the women’s suffrage movement and the cycle revolution?

The Women’s Freedom League came to Diss in August 1909 and held two meetings: one in the Market Place and one at Mr. Perfitt’s meadow. However, the report is that “there was a very scanty attendance.”
The Diss Express and Norfolk and Suffolk Journal, Friday 20 August 1909, page 4.

 

However, across the nation bicycles were considered a huge catalyst for change in terms of women’s suffrage.  The image of a woman riding a bicycle became the symbol of the ‘New Women’ who were challenging the status quo; to the extent that the male students of the University of Cambridge hung an effigy of a woman riding a bicycle in 1897 to protest the full admission of women to the university.

Don’t forget to find us at Diss Cyclathon and make your own bicycle badge inspired by Suffragette rosettes, and find out more about our local history!

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