Posted by: andrewritchie | January 16, 2010

The Wheelwoman – search for copies

The Wheelwoman, June 1896
The Wheelwoman, August 1896
The Wheelwoman, July 1897

Let me know if you have seen The Wheelwoman [from the 1890s] in a public library or in a private collection.

My friend Larry Finison is trying to establish the whereabouts of a complete run of an extremely scarce late 1890s American periodical entitled – The Wheelwoman. It is hard to find! So far we have only located a few copies in the Library of Congress, and a few more in private collections. We know that The Wheelwoman ran at least from February 1895 to December 1897, and perhaps longer.

It was edited [or, as she described it, “conducted”] by Mary Sargent Hopkins, who we are trying to find out more about. It was one of those “high society”- type cycling magazines which came out at the height of the explosion of interest in the bicycle in the great “boom” of the mid-1890s.

My feeling is that it was probably directed at the affluent, progressive [but still very respectable] ladies of New York, Boston and Chicago, the kind who wanted to ride a bicycle in public but wouldn’t have been seen dead wearing bloomers, or any other risque item of clothing. And The Wheelwomen has no interest in competitive sport: women just shouldn’t do sport on their bicycles!

I have 3 issues, from June and August 1896 and from July 1897, the covers of which are included here. There must be other copies out there somewhere.

Larry Finison writes:

Mary Sargent Hopkins didn’t start out as a society lady at all.  Her father (last name Neal) was a shoeworker who settled for a time in Lynn, MA, where she was born.  He later moved to Nyack, NY and from there enlisted in the Union army.  She was married there to a writer/photographer (John B. Reynolds), and divorced, moving to Brooklyn where she married Charles Hopkins. His father owned a furniture and bedding store in Boston, and upon his death they moved back to the Boston area (~1885), first to Boston, then Medford, then to Melrose.  Charles died sometime between 1906 and 1910, and she returned to Manhattan, where I believe she lived until the 1920s, before her death in 1924, at the home of a friend in Pembroke, MA.

She also wrote for several other publications, including the Christian Herald. She was associated with temperance, abolitionism, and women’s rights.

I would say she was attempting to “become” society, from fairly lowly beginnings, and never really made it. But this is interesting in its own right:  how cycling and cycling journalism was an avenue for the upwardly striving, and perhaps mobile.

I am trying to locate more information about her son (Ernest) and grandaughter (Constance) in the hope that this might lead me to a trove of material.

The Wheelwoman, conducted by Mary Sargent Hopkins. Volume 1, Number 10, from November, 1895, “devoted to the interests of women who ride the wheel and to the conversion of those who do not.”

– The time is ripe for a woman’s paper devoted to wheeling for women.
– A medium is needed for the dissemination of instructive and interesting articles on the subject upon which the existing cycling press is almost unanimously silent.
– The Wheelwoman gathers items of interest from all possible sources pertaining to the sport. Fashions in wheel-dress and accessories will be given special attention.
– The Wheelwoman is in the field, not as a competitor with other cycling papers, but to extend and broaden a work begun years ago; that of bringing women to realizing sea nse of the importance of outdoor exercise.
– The Wheelwoman advocates the highest standard of cycling from a healthful and artistic standpoint.
– The Wheelwoman is in no sense a trade journal.
– The Wheelwoman advertises and recommends nothing which cannot receive personal endorsement.
– Interesting articles by and about prominent women who advocate the wheel, appear each month in The Wheelwoman. Able writers contribute to its columns.
– The Wheelwoman is conducted by Mary Sargent Hopkins.

The magazine contains advertisements for:
Keating Wheel Co.,  Puritan Cycles by Faron & Co.,  Spalding Bicycles The Monarch,  King of Cycles Stylish Jackets,  Capes and Furs by Springer Bros.,  Stearns Combination Tandem at H.B. Shattuck & Son,  The Cleveland by H.A. Lozier & Co.  The Liberty Cycle Co.,  Quincy Cycle Company,  The New Mail by Wm. Read & Sons,  The Equipoise Waist at George Frost Company,  The McCune Cycle manufactured by Everett Cycle Co.

Contents include:
What the New Woman Owes to the Bicycle – Prominent Women Who Advocate the Wheel (A Series) by Marie Robinson Wright; Going Home Awheel by Adrienne Dairolles; How To Take It Easy; Cap’n Peleg and His Wheel – An Old Nantucket Whaler Learns to Navigate the Novel Craft;  Pen & Shears – The Tandem Bicycle; Stories; His Corner And More!

Andrew Ritchie’s comment:

I have seen the term “conducted” used before – it just means essentially “edited”. This magazine was pitched at quite a high grade of person socially, very much the upper crusty types, fashionable but progressive society lady types. The mag was “conducted” because it was seen as a kind of polite conversation between readers and Hopkins.] “Editing” a magazine wasn’t necessarily what a polite woman would want to be seen doing.

Larry Finison writes further:

John W. Hutchinson was an abolitionist and proponent of temperance and women’s rights. He was part of a quartet called the Hutchinson Family Singers that toured the northern states and England in the 1840s proclaiming abolitionism. Originally from Milford NH, the family migrated to High Rock, in Lynn MA. Frederick Douglass was a good friend of this family. The Hutchinson house apparently still stands at the High Rock location.

The author of the poem below, Mary Sargent Hopkins, knew John Hutchinson and joined him in various entertainments, including one near Dungeon Rock in the Lynn Forest, in 1885, and another at her house near Wellington Circle in Medford, in 1894, at which she hosted several literary and abolitionist figures. She was also from Lynn, so there may have been even earlier connections, as yet unverified.

Mary was the editor of The Wheelwoman at least from 1895 to 1897 and perhaps until 1902, and extolled the freedoms that bicycling brought to women, while at the same time attempting to advise then on “proper” bicycling attire.

Mary Sargent Hopkins –
Lines respectfully dedicated to John W. Hutchinson, on his Seventieth Birthday, January 4, 1891:

Down the long avenue you’re looking to-day,
The vista of seventy years;
While the lightning shadows lightly play
With memories of joys and tears.
Perchance on your list’ning ear there steals
Sweet voices of long ago,
Whose tones floated out on the summer air,
Making heaven of all below.

Down the long avenue when the years were young,
And life a page unread,
Did the spirit of Prophecy ever tell
Of the work of the years now fled?
When the band of brothers sang their songs
That echoed far and near,
“Emancipation” for the slave
Rang out in voices clear.

Down the long avenue stalked a fiend
With pestilence in his breath;
The blighted lives he drove to their doom,
Went down to hopeless death.
The Brothers put on their armor of Love,
And song-tipped arrows hurled;
“Prohibition” was their theme
And their cry reached round the world.

Down the long avenue in days now past,
A whisper was heard on the air;
The daughters of men were asking that they
The rights of their brothers might share.
The whisper was heard by the Sons of Song,
And their heavenly voices swelled
As they sang their hymns of liberty
And “Women’s Rights” upheld.

Down the long avenue came a day
When the sunlight seemed faint o’er the land,
And a requiem, such as angels might sing,
Stole from that death-broken band.
Down the long avenue they’re lying at rest,
The brothers you left by the way ;
Their life-work done, their voices mute,
While they wait for the dawning day.

Down the long avenue the western sun
With its crimson, slanting rays,
Foretells a morrow yet to come
And promises glorious days;
When the silent ones shall sing again
The wonderful songs of yore,
And in rapture list to harmonious strains
From those who ne’er sang before:

When the Right shall appear clothed in garments of Grace,
And the Wrong be buried from sight,
While Beauty and Love shall walk hand in hand,
And Sin be banished with Night.


Women and cycling in the 1890s

A Discussion [24 Jan. 2010]

Andrew Ritchie asks and suggests to Larry Finison:

I think you have to plumb the historical evidence for clues as to Hopkins’ class orientation, and her economic status. Also for her social intentions and/or pretentions.

Fine reading of the texts, and careful indepth research like you are doing, is definitely the way to go. This is what most people who have written about women and cycling in the 1890s have NOT done.

Of course, the situation in the US and UK was different, because in the UK you had the actual/real aristocracy as a point of reference, whereas in US you had only an economic aristocracy. Also, you have to define carefully what you mean by “sport”. For the middle-class and upper middle-class woman, it is better I feel to define it as a “recreation”, though recreation does also contain implications of “sport”. But it was considered ok to take part in “recreation”, whereas “sport” had a somewhat more risque connotation. It was when women went too hard into “sport” [certainly scorching or racing] that they would risk disapproval.

The involvement of the real upper-class in both UK and US was a brief flirtation at the height of the bicycle boom [1896-97] and seems to have quickly faded. But this gave more respectability to cycling for the upper middle-classes, what you call the “strivers”. It was always the women who pushed the lid [bloomers, racing, smoking in public] who gave women and cycling a bad name. Of course, in Paris, they pushed the lid harder than elsewhere and got away with it, because since they were “artists” no one cared!!

What do you think, Nicholas?


Nicholas Oddy responds:

Gendering and female-specific bicycles: This is a matter of debate. Ivel seems to have had one in 1888 and slowly others followed, and by 1891 there were a number. Of course, Lawson was to claim that his open-frame machine of 1884 was female, but he never made such a claim at the time and I suspect that this was a very frustrated designer trying to get some retrospective credibility when open frame machines had become well established. Obviously there were earlier ones, starting with Johnson in 1819, but these led to nothing and are therefore exceptional.

Class position: I have no figures, but I think that one can be fairly certain that female cycling in the Boom period was dominated by the upper-middle (haute-bourgeois) class, rather than the upper class, just on the evidence of extent of production and relative proportions of population. However the activity was validated by a not insignificant number of genuine upper class riders ( ‘upper class’ refers only to those of aristocratic birth in 19th century UK). Female cycling was definitely not a ‘sport’ in the public mind, it was a recreation or social activity. And there is little evidence of it being practiced as a sport beyond, exceptionally, in circuses and spectacles, unless you consider the bicycle gymkhana as a sporting event.

As a threat to society: This is probably grossly exaggerated by the bulk of writers. There is certainly evidence that female cycling did challenge ideas of convention, particularly in conservative households, but I would be interested to know how many really were that conservative and exactly how strongly the challenges were resisted. My grandmother and her sisters started cycling in the boom and came from precisely the ‘right’ sort of family, very wealthy with links to aristocratic birth on one side, strongly church going and so on, yet they faced no parental opposition.

I tend to accept the hypothesis that much of the image of women in the 1890s that we have today is a somewhat later construct to exaggerate the awfulness of the Victorian era. We have to be VERY careful of published sources of the period. By default their writers were exceptional and had axes to grind, none can be taken as representative of the ‘average’ female cyclist, whatever or whoever that was, any more than current day writers for Elle or Cosmopolitan can be taken to represent what is actually going on in the minds of contemporary readers.

Activity itself: I reckon that in c. 1894, about 5% of cycling activity was female, based on The Anchor books [a visitor’s book signed by visitors in The anchor public house, on the Ripley Road, on the edge of London – AR] and other sources. The high point of visible female cycling was in the Boom, 1894-7, but by 1898 it was unexceptional and largely beyond comment; sales of female machines peaked after the boom in c1898-99.

The visibility and extent of the activity are in direct proportion to ubiquity; the more ubiquitous, the less visible. Something to remember, I think. Therefore, by far the most comment and discussion is in the early to middle stages of the boom, when the novelty and unusualness of the activity caused it to be noticed and to receive particular attention, although the actual number of practitioners was quite small.

I hope this helps,



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