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A conservative road: the bicycling rhetoric of Mary Sargent Hopkins.

In the 1890s, reporters throughout the country published article after article documenting and debating the new bicycle craze. They were particularly concerned about the ramifications of women's bicycling on Victorian gender norms; many worried that bicycling would limit women's reproductive ability and turn them into masculine, radical political agitators unencumbered by traditional gender norms. Dress was a particularly explosive aspect of this debate, and the pants-wearing woman cyclist, symbolizing the most threatening potential of the bicycle, was a common image in popular press cartoons that mocked women's activism (Marks 175). In 1894, a reporter for the New York Times summed up the disgust many Americans felt about this New Woman: "if there is one thing I hate ... it is a masculine woman ... She has made a half-way sort of creature of herself. She can't be a man, and she is a disgrace as a woman" ("Woman's wheeling dress"). It would be understandable to assume that a close-minded male journalist who was ignorant of women's beliefs about their cycling practices wrote this particular article. According to popular accounts, women's bicycling in the 1890s was personally and politically empowering for women. Sue Macy represent this sentiment in her recent history Wheels of Change, and some readers may be familiar with Susan B. Anthony's often-cited statement that bicycling has "done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world" (qtd. in Bly 10). Yet, this Times article was not written by a male journalist hoping to undermine womens efforts to transfer gender norms. The author was in fact Mary Sargent Hopkins, a leading advocate for women's cycling and outdoor activities.

Mary Sargent Hopkins was a politically engaged, middle-class woman and an avid cyclist. She developed an extraordinary career by promoting womens exercise and sport in a variety of newspapers and magazines during the 1890s. It may seem counterintuitive that a nationally known, female sports columnist of the 1890s would use the popular press as a platform to disparage women athletes who challenged gender roles and evoke such conservatism. But Hopkins believed the majority of women bicyclists were not gender-bending radicals or "New Women," but respectable reformers working to improve women's lives within existing gender constructs.

Hopkins wrote in a period when women were by and large not taken seriously as journalists or medical authorities, yet readers widely regarded her as an expert in womens sports and exercise. Despite her popularity as a columnist, womens sports enthusiasts in both scholarly and popular circles have all but forgotten about Hopkins. No scholar of cycling or journalism has studied Hopkins in depth, and there has been no research exploring how she was able to gain such expert status. This paper speaks to this research gap. It investigates the specific conservative rhetorical strategy Hopkins used in her efforts as a columnist to promote exercise and sport for women, a project that required her to establish her ethos as an expert so readers would take her arguments seriously. This paper explores Hopkins' strategy as a three-step process. First, Hopkins argued that the acceptance of womens exercise and sport was thanks to the "pioneer women" of years past who challenged social conventions, and not medical professionals who had recently authorized such activities. Secondly, she then used this woman-centered narrative to situate herself as a current expert on women's exercise and sport because of her personal experiences. Thirdly, this essay argues that Hopkins, having established her ethos as an expert, was able to use journalism to promote her specific vision of the modern, physically active woman--a conservative ideal she named "renewed womanhood." Ultimately, Hopkins' conservative rhetoric provides an opportunity to complicate popular memory of womens cycling as monolithic and radical. Hopkins encouraged women to ride by evoking strikingly traditional gender norms and disparaged women who used bicycling to express radical notions of womanhood.

"Pioneer Women"

Mary Sargent Hopkins wrote and published in a period when women were not considered to be experts in journalism or medicine, and women who had little professional training were taken even less seriously than their educated peers. Hopkins had no formal training, and especially no medical training: she openly admitted to her readers that she wrote from "a popular rather than a scientific point of view" ("The Horseless Carriage"). Born in 1847 in Lynn, Massachusetts, Hopkins moved to Nyack, New York when her father, who was a shoemaker, joined the Union army. After a brief first marriage ended in divorce (reasons for which are unknown), she married Charles Hopkins, who ran a furniture store he had inherited from his father. The couple returned to the Boston area upon getting married, and she lived in Boston until her death in 1924. Her obituary does not identify any next of kin, and it does not appear that she had children ("Died" 19). Andrew Ritchie, a British cycling historian, commented that Hopkins was known for her role in womens rights, temperance and abolition movements in the late nineteenth century. Yet most of Hopkins' writings do not confront these issues directly. Her work focused on issues of womens sport and exercise, bicycling in particular. While Hopkins published under her own name, she also referred to herself as "the Merrie Wheeler" [sic] and the "Outdoor Woman," showcasing her primary purpose as the promotion of women's sports and exercise ("How to ride the bicycle" 12-15). Hopkins published columns in many highly regarded popular periodicals of the 1880s and 1890s, including individual pieces in The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar, The New England Kitchen Magazine and Frank Leslies Popular Monthly. Hopkins was also well known as the founder and editor of Wheelwoman, a popular periodical for women cyclists. Published monthly out of Hopkins' Boston office, Wheelwoman was in print from 1895 to 1897 ("American Newspaper Directory"). Hopkins was forced to deal with this limitation to create and maintain a career as a columnist as well as to use her writing to promote the changes she wished to inspire. Hopkins used a specific strategy to claim expert status so that readers would take her arguments and ideas about women's sport and exercise seriously despite her gender and lack of formal credentials.

The first step of Hopkins' rhetorical strategy was to frame the popularity of womens cycling, and women's sport overall, as the direct result of women of previous generations who were the first to engage in such practices. It was a common belief during that period that most middle-class women began engaging in sport and exercise either because their doctor approved it or because their doctor specifically prescribed such activities for them. The few historians who have explored women's cycling have similarly viewed the relationship of women cyclists and medical professionals as one of unquestioned obedience, characterizing the physician as a "key figure, monitoring and regulating the doses of riding" like any other prescription under his control and supervision (Garvey 80). This proposed internalization of the medical professions legitimacy is said to explain why professional medical discourse was so common among women's pro-cycling arguments in the late nineteenth century.

Hopkins contested this narrative of obedience and medicalization in her writing by first describing the popularity of sport and exercise, then documenting this as a major social shift. Sarah Hallenbeck argues popular periodicals provided a particularly useful forum for this perspective because they "celebrated innovation and disdained tradition, they encouraged readers to think of their world as a rapidly changing place, within which old expectations and assumptions were constantly being undermined and startling new possibilities were emerging" which greatly "assisted non-medically trained women authors in contesting medical commonplaces" (Hallenbeck 329). In "Bicycling for Girls: A Word to Mothers," Hopkins expressed her pleasure at the fact that "foolish notions" that girls "must be 'ladylike' even at the expense" of health and fitness "have almost entirely vanished ... [and as such] [o]ur girls are healthier and happier" than non-cycling women of previous generations (142). In "The Outdoor Woman," Hopkins similarly acknowledged that "[t]he smiling and wholesome product of sunshine and fresh air known as the outdoor woman could scarcely have been so classified in America ten years ago" (244). In a Harper's Bazaar article, Hopkins stated that due to "[t]he joy in temporary freedom from care, the new-found beauty of nature, the steady gain in physical strength, the pleasure found in speed and ease combined," women have taken up cycling in record numbers (244). Hopkins also reported that arguments for women's sport and exercise were "no more mere theory. Its efficacy has been tried and proven by thousands" of women throughout the country ("Outdoor papers" 309-310).

Hopkins directly challenged the notion that women took up outdoor activities and sports such as cycling because medical authorities supported and promoted it. Instead, she argued that readers should thank the "pioneer women" for engaging in these activities before they were socially sanctioned--that they paved the way for the current "outdoor woman," not physicians. In "How the bicycle won its way among women," Hopkins outlined the process of social acceptance of women's cycling. She stated that when the "women's wheel made its first appearance ... it was looked upon with suspicion by many, with derision by some, and accepted by few." Hopkins argued "[t]he various causes and reasons which have led up to its adoption by women can be traced primarily to the influence of the tricycle." Despite the limitations of the tricycle, in particular its weight, difficulty to control and high price, Hopkins stated women who were able and willing to start tricycling quickly developed a passion for women's sport and exercise and became less willing to confine themselves within the "four walls" of their homes {ibid.). Hopkins then argued "[t]he few women who were pioneers in cycling lost no opportunity to spread the new gospel of good health to be found awheel." In the same piece, Hopkins added to this narrative by including a large image of Mrs. W. E. Smith, which takes up a third of the page. Cycling historians generally cite Smith as the first documented woman to ride a safety bicycle in public (her husband was a well-known bicycle manufacturer). Along with her name under her large photo, Hopkins identified Smith as "the pioneer rider." Due to this promotion of womens cycling by women themselves, "[s]lowly but steadily the wheel found favor in the eyes of women." To Hopkins, the growth of women's cycling was not a mere trend, but a significant and permanent change in women's lives as "once a cycler meant always a cycler." Hopkins consistently argued in her writing that when women engaged in outdoor pursuits, especially cycling, they soon found their physical and mental health, outlook on life, and feeling of control all greatly improved.

After exploring the rising popularity of women's cycling, Hopkins remarked that "[p]hysicians were not at first inclined to give the bicycle their unqualified approval, but, surprised and pleased by the effect it produced, they soon began to prescribe it for their patients" (ibid.). Hopkins purposely locates the medical profession's acceptance of women's cycling as the result of seeing positive changes in women cyclists themselves. Hopkins did not state that women were waiting for their doctors' approval to begin exercising, in fact quite the opposite--women were cycling before their doctors accepted it, and it was women's cycling that changed the medical profession's stance on the issue.

Hopkins utilized a similar argument in "The Outdoor Woman," an article in which she analyzed the acceptance of women's sports and outdoor activities more broadly. Not "any advice or preaching of physician" but, she argued, "a few leading and pioneer women, who blazed the way for the multitude to follow, has been the greatest factor in the new order of things" ("The Outdoor Woman"). Hopkins credited cycling as the source of this change: "the strongest influence brought to bear upon women, to induce them to release themselves from their self-imprisonment, has been the wheel ... to induce women to open their hearts and lives to the gospel of fresh air and sunshine, I have found no more faithful ally than the bicycle" (15). Again, it was to a passion incited by cycling and "a valorization of [women's] personal experience," not to the medical profession, that Hopkins attributed the rapid growth of women's sports and exercise (Hallenbeck 344).

"Us Moderns"

By constructing the social acceptance of womens exercise and sport as the result of "pioneer women" and not the approval of the medical profession, Hopkins created a narrative in which she positioned women's personal experiences, not medical discourse, as the central authority of women's physical culture. Hopkins provides a striking counter-narrative to the well-known history of medicine's rise as a professional elite and cultural authority in the late nineteenth century. With this narrative, Hopkins constructed a space to situate herself as someone with similar personal experiences, as a current expert on women's sport and exercise instead of male physicians. The "pioneer women" framework was not a narrative of one single woman or even a few notable women, but rather a collective narrative of many forward-thinking, progressive women. Hopkins did not write about her personal experiences in the first person, but rather used her articles to document and discuss the experiences of "outdoor women" as a whole. In her articles, she rarely used T and instead would frame issues and trends as experienced by "the thinking women of to-day" [sic]: the collective "us" of well-read, physically and politically active, white middle-class women ("The Bicycle for Women").

By using this strategy, Hopkins positioned herself as a leading voice of this collective of modern pioneers. This frequently occurred when Hopkins documented the pure pleasure of cycling. She distinctly spoke of the benefits and joys that an individual experienced while cycling as a collective experience. In "Bicycling for Girls: A Word to Mothers," Hopkins outlines a shared narrative of building athletic ability and the resulting successes:

The hills which discouraged us at the beginning of the season are as nothing, only a little rise in the ground; we begin to feel that we are masters of the situation, thanks to the muscles that have been in training long enough to respond without a protest. We do not dismount at the rough sandy places now, we just ride over and through them, and we feel like conquerors. ("Bicycling for Girls" 143)

In one of her articles published in her "Out-door Papers" column in The New England Kitchen Magazine, Hopkins described cycling as "the most invigorating, exhilarating, and fascinating method of exercise known to us moderns" ("Out-door Papers" 309). Similarly in Harper's Bazaar, Hopkins declared "the sense of exhilaration that comes from a free run or a down-hill coast cannot be expressed in words or transferred on paper. How many of us have felt, after a pleasurable run, that money could not buy that golden bit of experience!" ("The Bicycle for Women"). As an avid cyclist who worked tirelessly to promote the sport, one imagines she personally experienced such joy while riding. Yet she does not frame these experiences as individual at all, but as shared among all women cyclists, who by their very activity are embodying modernity, and Hopkins positioned herself as able to document those experiences in her publications.

By the mid-1890's, Hopkins' strategy was quite successful. Numerous journalists, women's activists and cycling advocates viewed Hopkins as a leading expert regarding womens cycling, and this can be clearly shown in both the praise she received and the seriousness with which her ideas were regarded. Her articles and publications were highly praised in both popular periodicals and women's political presses. A reviewer in Scientific American called Wheelwoman, Hopkins' cycling magazine, "a very handsomely gotten up monthly" and a welcome addition to the diverse genre of cycling periodicals ("Cycle Notes" 131). A journalist in Peterson Magazine highlighted Hopkins as a leading women's editor who reported with "great accuracy and skill" and a picture of Hopkins on her bicycle was in the center of the page (Hamm 609). In "The Bicycle--Its Pleasures and Perils," Hopkins' work was quoted among other international figures of the women's rights movement (including Frances Willard and Isabel Somerset) as proof of the benefits of cycling for women (Seymour 703). In 1894, New York Times reporters looked to Hopkins as a key authority as they weighed in on debates of proper dress of women cyclists, a highly controversial topic during the 1890's. The journalists in fact described Hopkins as "well known all over the country as an advocate of cycling for women" and they documented her opinions in detail ("Woman's Wheeling Dress" 21, "Dress for Wheelwomen" 18). By 1897, The New York Times deemed Hopkins a "pioneer rider and advocate of cycling for women" ("Women and Cycling" 10). The New England Kitchen Magazine similarly referred to her as an "expert and enthusiastic bicyclist [who is] known to so many ("Next Month"). In a feature article describing the popularity of women and bicycling, another New York Times reporter featured Hopkins in a large photograph among other well-known women cyclists of the period and stated that due to Hopkins' "wonderfully skillful and convincing pen, her name has become a household name wherever the bicycle is ridden and cycling and outdoor literature is read" ("Women and Cycling" 10).

Hopkins also lectured on these topics to supplement her income and further her activism. Writers for suffrage press newspapers often promoted these lectures, which were typically in Boston or New York City. For example, a journalist for The Woman's Journal promoted Hopkins' lecture titled "Outing and Cycling for Women" and described how Hopkins was "thoroughly equipped to speak on this vital subject with knowledge and enthusiasm" ("News and Notes"). Hopkins' speech on women's outdoor exercise at the New England Fair was also promoted in The Womans Journal (245). The New York Times' report on the end-of-season banquet of the Excelsiors Club, a highly regarded women's cycling club in New York, mentioned Hopkins among the women who "contributed to the success of the occasion" ("The Excelsiors Entertain" 6).

"Renewed Womanhood"

Armed with her expert status, Hopkins was ultimately able to use journalism for her major purpose--the promotion of women's sport, exercise, and cycling in particular. Yet Hopkins did not promote all of these activities nor was she accepting of women engaging in these activities in all possible ways. Women activists and reformers working to promote and further the multitude of social, legal, and cultural changes that took place in the nineteenth century did not have a unified vision of new, modern, empowered womanhood. In fact, women waged a war of words and ideas aimed at men, conservative women as well as internal conflicts within women's activist organizations. Upon identifying the "pioneer women" of recent past and positioning herself as a collective voice, and thus expert, of that experience, Hopkins was able to do more than simply encourage women to become active. Instead, she used her authority to promote her specific vision of what the modern, physically active woman should be in a period when the future of womanhood was hotly contested.

Hopkins conceptualized her image of the ideal, modern woman as "renewed womanhood," which she described in detail in many of her writings ("The Outdoor Woman" 15). "Renewed womanhood" was Hopkins' response to both Victorian gender ideals and images of the "New Woman." Hopkins believed that Victorian notions of womanhood were stifling and passe, and she focused her critique on the social practices that kept women indoors and away from the benefits of sunshine, fresh air and nature. Hopkins in fact used the terms 'outdoor woman' and 'outdoor womanhood' interchangeably with "renewed womanhood": "[t]he renewed woman is the outdoor woman" (15). In contrast, Hopkins described women's homes as "indoor shrines" which created a "condition of servitude" that included poor physical and mental health, low self-esteem, and an overall poor quality of life (15). Hopkins also challenged Victorian medicalization and limitations placed on girls as well: "Mother, your girl does not need stays, braces, or medicine, but good, wholesome, hearty, outdoor life" (15).

Hopkins was noticeably aware of class differences in her efforts to make all women "outdoor women." She acknowledged that all women did not have the luxury of going outside whenever they pleased, and that many women found their domestic work meaningful and important. For Hopkins, the stifling impact of indoor routines was the real problem:

Women do not realize that it is not work that wearies so much as monotony combined with too little sunshine and fresh air. The woman who stays in the house week after week becomes after a time a captive in spirit as well as in body. She narrows in thought and weakness in mind. "All work and no play" is as bad for Jack's wife as it is for Jack himself ("Out-door papers" 309).

Along with recommending cycling, walks, and other forms of exercise, Hopkins also wrote articles in which she outlined ways for women to rethink the way they do household chores, especially washing and cooking. She outlined strategies so that these tasks could be completed outside or more efficiently inside, thus giving women more free time for exercise and sport. Hopkins used a collective narrative in these articles as well: she either provided these tips in short stories with characters that serve as role models, thus resorting to the use of exempla, the arguments traditionally associative with deliberative rhetoric, or she reported common mistakes and general improvements women as a group were making in these areas ("Two Mothers" 136-138, "Washing" 223-224).

While Hopkins' image of the "renewed woman" or "outdoor woman" was a direct critique of Victorian ideals of womanhood, Hopkins critiqued the "New Woman" ideal as well. The New Woman was a central image of womens empowerment and equality in late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century popular culture. If viewed positively, the New Woman was educated, employed, financially independent, healthy, empowered, and politically active in the public sphere. If viewed negatively, which was overwhelmingly the case in late nineteenth-century popular press, the New Woman was noted for her "Amazonian physique [which] exercise produced," masculine behavior and clothing, and forcing "the inevitable submission of men" via her acquisition of rights and privileges traditionally limited to men (Marks 174).

Many women activists and reformers expressed varied levels of discomfort with what they understood as some womens unnecessary radicalism and masculinity, justified under the guise of modernity and equality. Hopkins clearly supported such critiques of the "New Woman," and used her role as expert to dissuade women interested in sport and exercise from going to what she viewed as extremes. Hopkins openly critiqued the masculinity of "New Women" both in their "strident and ungentle" clothing choices and entrance into male dominated public spaces, and refused to use the term to identify the modern "pioneer women" she respected:

I dislike to apply the term "new woman" to those for whom I fain would gain admiration ... The woman who affects mannish manners and masculine attire, who talks and acts as if her sole purpose in life were to dislodge some man so that she may take his place in business, domestic or political economy, is not the real new woman. ("The Outdoor Woman")

Hopkins instead encouraged readers to identify with and model themselves as "renewed women." The main difference between "renewed" and "new" women was that the "renewed woman" continued to embody the naturalized femininity of Victorian womanhood: she "glorif[ies] in the return of her birthright, good health, radiates love, comfort and courage." Most importantly, renewed women could have empowered notions of their bodies and minds without a masculine gender performance or gesture toward men's political rights. The renewed woman

is not afraid to take her place by the side of man (but never wants to elbow her way in front of him), both indoors and out, she can pull an oar, ride a wheel, hold her own tennis racquet or golf club, she can take her place in the business world or in following the arts and sciences, if it be desirable or necessary; losing none of her femininity because she is successful in all these things. (Ibid)

For the renewed woman, being outdoors was not a masculine or radical political experience but time "amid Nature's wholesome influences" where women not only maintained but refreshed and "renewed" their femininity (Ibid). Hopkins vision of "renewed womanhood" directly shaped her ideology of women's cycling. Cycling, even in the nineteenth century, was a diverse practice in which women could engage in a variety of ways. Different practices, especially types of riding and cycling clothing, often had very distinctive social connotations and levels of social acceptance. Most women cyclists did not purposefully focus their cycling advocacy and practice to challenge conventions of Victorian respectability. Instead, they constructed a specific gender performance as a cyclist to fit into those conventions. While this performance had individual variations for each woman, all of these performances used feminine respectability and "impeccable personal conduct" as the boundaries of acceptable cycling behavior (Sims 129). Women viewed cycling practices that involved a gender performance too closely associated with masculinity as "unsexing" women (practices such as "scorching," a term originally associated with cycling at dangerously risky speeds) (Woodforde 87). Many women cyclists believed that blurring the lines between men and women was a detriment to the progressive reform ideals of the time, central to which was the gender ideology that women were naturally different from men and were uniquely positioned, by their moral, feminine nature, to improve society as a whole (Simpson 54). Hopkins' "renewed woman" mirrored such ideology. Hopkins proposed the ideal woman cyclist as strong, healthy and independent. Yet, she did not support any types of cycling that blurred the boundaries between men and women--the "renewed woman" was athletic while always maintaining her femininity.

The most contested and commonly discussed issue of women and cycling in the 1890s was not how the wheelwoman should ride or where she should go, but in fact what she should wear while riding. In contemporary popular discourse, the clothing option typically associated with women's cycling dress in the 1890's is the bloomer. Yet, this was an incredibly radical outfit and not accepted by most women, including Hopkins, who cycled at that time. Throughout the 1890s women designed, created and sometimes even patented, marketed and sold their own cycling outfits, shared these ideas with friends, and weighed the pros and cons of various clothing options in great detail (Gray and Peteu 27). While women as a group wore a wide variety of cycling costumes during the 1890s, women chose their clothing options with the specific purpose of gaining respectability to ride inconspicuously in the city streets. It is important to acknowledge that while the discourse of respectability and cycling did provide distinct markers of acceptable and unacceptable clothing, women were far from unified on the subject. Women cyclists not only held a wide array of opinions on the most suitable cycling outfit, but also disagreed on the precise definition of respectability itself: both dress reform and respectability were not singular visions held by women cyclists but a spectrum of loosely connected, individual performances. Women cyclists, both in person and in print, argued that their specific mode of dress best addressed the needs of the woman cyclist while adhering to their individual definition of feminine respectability.

For Hopkins, like many women cyclists, choice of clothing was a key way to embody her specific ideal of "renewed womanhood." She viewed the clothing debate as "of vital importance" and her advice was "the result of a careful study of what is necessary for the comfort and attractive appearance of the wheelwoman" ("The Bicycle for Women"). Hopkins spent a great deal of her column space arguing that cyclists who "seized the opportunity of making themselves decidedly obnoxious in their manners and dress when a-wheel" were ruining the sport for all women, impeding efforts to make womens sports socially accepted and decreasing the likelihood of more women learning to ride. Hopkins was against most bifurcated costumes and types of rational dress (the most radical wing of women's dress reform) as she associated them with masculine and unattractive women. In her writings, Hopkins repeatedly attempted to dissociate "New Women" from the image of women cyclists and described her "terrible fear" that bloomers would become the standard cycling outfit for women ("Womans Wheeling Dress" 18). In one article, she stated (quite accurately) that although "[t]here has been much said ... about the merits of "bloomers" ... [t]he great majority of wheelwomen are still conservative, however, and cling to the ankle-length skirt" which is the outfit she most approved ("How to ride the bicycle" 12-15). Thus Hopkins provided specific advice on types of skirts and accessories, as maintaining a "standard of daintiness" and femininity was for her the most important task for wheelwomen ("The Bicycle for Women").

The cycling outfit of the "renewed woman" also took into account her riding style. Hopkins stated that the ideal women cyclist should "use, not abuse" their bicycle ("Dress for Wheelwomen" 18). Hopkins argued that women who wore bloomers and rational dress did so because they wanted to be able to ride as fast as men, and masculine clothing was required for this level of athleticism. She stated that bloomers were unnecessary because women should not be engaged in such riding styles--a moderate pace made the shortened skirt enough for women cyclist (21). Hopkins deemed these cyclists "the sexless ones" who wear "knickerbockers, sweaters and peaked caps" and ride not in an elegant, upright position but in a racing posture: "humped over their handlebars and head thrust out turtle-wise" ("How to Ride the Bicycle" 14). Hopkins voiced her frustration at and disdain for such masculine behavior: "the racing man's female imitator is impervious to hint or expostulation." Hopkins located this type of cycling as outside of the norms of women's cycling and physical culture overall, as "[t]he generality of women cyclists do not aim to be record makers or breakers" (14). In one of the few times Hopkins discusses her specific cycling practice, she stated, "I have never ridden to make a record" ("Dress for Wheelwomen" 18). Central to the cycling habits of the "renewed woman" was to maintain her femininity via moderation--a focus on racing or speed made a feminine gender performance virtually impossible.

Hopkins typically concluded her vision of "renewed womanhood" with a discussion of the benefits women have and will continue to experience if they engage in sport and exercise, as she "celebrate [d] the benefits of what has been gained" and never "considered] the issue as remaining worthy of debate" (Hallenbeck 337). Hopkins located these benefits within the context of femininity as she "plac[ed] physical activity at the apex of women's advancement" (Hallenbeck 338). In her article directed towards mothers, Hopkins invited mothers to encourage sport, exercise and outdoor play for their daughters. Hopkins not only reassured mothers that these activities would not make their daughters masculine--"don't be afraid it will make a hoyden out of her"--but would in fact strengthen their femininity: "You will find her far more susceptible to refining influences, her temper will be far sweeter, and she will be an altogether more lovable member of the family circle" ("Bicycling for Girls" 143). Not only would exercise and sport help girls meet Victorian ideals of daughters, but women would be able to achieve the ideal role of dutiful mothers. Hopkins predicted that "[m]any a woman, who if not a criminal herself, by her nagging disposition is enough to drive every member of her family to that point, would be transformed into a cheerful angel of mercy and patience" if she engaged in regular outdoor activities ("The Horseless Carriage"). Upon arguing that because moderate exercise and time spent outdoors led women to a "higher life physically, mentally and morally," Hopkins then added, "You see I put the physical first, for I believe that a normal physical condition is the foundation for all that is healthy in mind and morals" ("The Horseless Carriage"). In her analysis of Hopkins, Hallenbeck argues that Hopkins believed outdoor activities would "allow women to increase their societal contributions in all fields" (12). Yet for Hopkins, women who were "renewed" would be primed to take an active role in church, housework, and social reform (especially work in urban slums)--all traditional areas for women that functioned as extensions of caretaking and domestic duties (12). Hopkins only considers professional, philanthropic and domestic activities that reflect and promote Victorian norms of femininity.


Mary Sargent Hopkins achieved a unique success for a nineteenth-century woman: she created a successful journalism career based on her self-made expertise in womens sport and exercise. Hopkins was able to achieve such success via a specific rhetorical strategy. She constructed a historical narrative of the social acceptance of women's sport and exercise as the direct result of the personal experiences of "pioneer women." With women's personal experiences instead of male-dominated medical discourse as the prime evidence within this narrative, Hopkins positioned herself as a voice for experiences of the collective, modern pioneer women. Utilizing a woman-centered voice of expertise, Hopkins was ultimately able to successfully use the forum of popular periodicals to promote her specific vision of the ideal physically active woman--a vision of modern femininity that she dubbed "renewed womanhood." Hopkins" promotion of women's sport and exercise remains ambiguous, though her success as a late nineteenth-century columnist was a notable feat. Yet Hopkins was ultimately unable to envision women's physical, social and medical empowerment outside of the boundaries of Victorian gender constructs.

Hopkins" legacy complicates a simplified and under-analyzed thread of women's history and sports history. It is easy to assume that the bicycle had a revolutionary impact on women's lives. Many individual women in this era would have agreed with this assumption. Yet it is problematic to naturalize this impact. Hopkins shows that the bicycle was not naturally revolutionary but a neutral medium in which cyclists, especially those without a formal education, could craft an argument in pursuit of their own goals. As a relatively new type of technology that emerged in an era of significant cultural change, the first generation of mass-produced bicycles were particularly useful for activists and columnists working to create a variety of rhetorical strategies to support their own beliefs. To Hopkins, the bicycle was best used to expand womens opportunities self-improvement, not revolutionary politics. Hopkins provides a striking example that women were not passive recipients of this new technology, but used bicycling to further their own and often less than radical agendas, often reinforcing dominant ideology as a result.

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Christine Neejer

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