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Flaneurie on bicycles: acquiescence to women in public in the 1890s.

Although scholars have established the publicity of all types of nineteenth-century women, their public actions are still regarded as morally constrained. We offer one group of public women, bourgeois cyclists, who after encountering public skepticism only briefly were given free rein of the streets and country roads. This propensity of women and men to ride the thoroughfares 'a-wheel' we refer to as flaneurie on bicycles, a technology-mediated form of the pedestrian variety. Similarities and differences necessarily abound because of the requirements of sale cycling and the long-distance rambling capacity of cyclists. We argue, however, that flaneurie of the bicycle kind is largely faithful to the original in that cycling promoted peripatetic individualism, for female as well as male riders.

Bien que des chercheurs aient etabli la presence en publique de toutes formes de femmes de la dix-neuvieme siecle, leurs activites en publique sont toujours considerees moralement contraint. Nous identifions un groupe de femmes en publique, les cyclistes bourgeois qui, apres avoir rencontre brievement le scepticisme du public, a ete donne libre cours aux rues et aux chemins. Cette propension de femmes et d'hommes a faire la bicyclette dans la rue nous avons decrit 'flaneurie sur bicyclette', qui est une forme de flaneurie, mais mediate par technologie. Similarites et differences entre ces deux formes de flaneurie abondent necessairement, a cause des exigances de cyclisme sain et sauf, et la capacite a faire des randonnees long-lointain de cyclistes. Nous proposons, cependant, ce flaneurie du genre de bicyclette est en grande mesure fidele a l'original dans qu'allant a velo a promu l'individualisme itinerant, pour la femelle de meme que cavaliers males.


Recent research on women and the public in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries confirms that women of all types occupied public spaces and especially the streets. However, scholars reconstructing historical womanhood construe women's publicity or publicness as qualified; women's public actions seem almost always to be accompanied by the moralizations and reprimands of conservative Victorians and Edwardians, whose moral zeal is infamous (Himmelfarb 1968; Himmelfarb 2000). (1) Presumably such strictures would render the idea of a female Victorian flaneur or flaneuse quite unlikely (Wolff 1990a; Nord 1995; Gleber 1997); note that the flaneur is seen by Isin (2002, 211-5) to be an anonymous bourgeois professional stranger and is always described by Baudelaire, Benjamin and others as masculine. Yet, women clearly walked the streets and had done so since the beginning of the modern city era, circa 1789 (Stansell 1987); 'modern' women as denizens of the streets had already been a century-old reality in the era of the safety bicycle (see also Ryan 1990). Still, there is a suspicion that 'the female bohemian who strolled and looked with freedom could not exist in the nineteenth century' (Nord 1995, 15). The traditional view that women were not flaneurs arises from the idea that bourgeois society established laws of public morality that simply forbade women from such ungoverned pedestrianism; 'ladies were not supposed to be seen aimlessly wandering the streets' (Vicinius 1985, 297) and women challenged such mores at their peril.

Within the context of a select body of work on female flaneurie and public womanhood in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Vicinius 1985; Buck-Morss 1986; Peiss 1986; Stansell 1987; Pollock 1988; Ryan 1990; Wolff 1990a; Wilson 1991, 2001; Walkowitz 1992; Nord 1995; Strange 1995; Gleber 1997; Deutsch 2000; Rappaport 2000; Spain 2000; Domosh 2001), is it plausible that one group of late-century women did wander the streets practically free of qualifications, despite initial condemnations of the impropriety of their action? The group of bourgeois women we discuss here not only possessed privilege and influence but also used their considerable resources, which for many included an affiliation with institutions, especially voluntary organizations that promoted bourgeois domestic ideology (Mackintosh 2005), to accredit their presence in the streets. This credibility was further buttressed by both the purchase of a bicycle and women's commitment to the fashion of cycling. Among women of the elite classes, cycling began in Britain in the tricycling boom of the early 1880s and transferred to the safety bicycle in the early 1890s, becoming a popular recreation in the mid to late 1890s contributing to what Richard Harmond (1971-1972) calls a cycling 'craze'. Indeed, the popularity of cycling among men and women in the 1890s has cultural implications that await full investigation by geographers (see Norcliffe 2001). It is however the intersection of women's publicity, the bicycle, and culture in our view that renders Harmond's use of the term 'craze' inaccurate. Women's adoption of cycling in the 1890s represented not the continuity of a craze so much as a fundamental change and reversal of accepted norms. If elite women were ever diffident regarding their publicity and recent work suggests that they were not (Deutsch 2000; Spain 2000; Mackintosh in press), the bicycle helped transform timorousness and recidivism into confidence and respectability. Most women such as Women's Christian Temperance Union President, Frances Willard ([1895] 1997), rode their bicycles free of care.

In this paper, we argue not only for the presence of the female flaneur but also that she took to the streets on her bicycle with the approval of the gatekeepers of social standards. We acknowledge that, initially, a section of high society frowned on these women but that dissatisfaction quickly abated under a landslide of cycling respectability, so that many of those who at first were morally affronted subsequently acquiesced to the women-and-cycling phenomenon. Women rode the bicycle not as an expression of resistance to a bourgeois public morality. Rather, it was the technological sophistication of the bicycle itself, the popularity of the sport among elite men and women, and cycling's construction as haute couture that gave impetus to the respectability of the new pastime.

We consider first, the rise of the flaneur--set in the context of a very brief sketch of some of the advances of modernism in Victorian society--to establish the plausibility of our notion that cycling in the fin de siecle modern city was simply another type of flaneurie. By reducing flaneurie to its attributes, we identify these same attributes in street-walking women social reformers; from here, women's flaneurie on bicycles is probable. We follow this with a discussion of the bicycle as a significant technological innovation whose appearance in the streets of the modern industrial city and the surrounding country lanes is considered by some as teleological and certainly providential. An examination of the popularity of cycling among the elite women of Britain and North America implies the presence of a kind of trickle-down culture. Because the women of the royalty, of the peerage, of the gentry and the upper classes in general created a fashion of cycling, women on bicycles became de rigueur in all cities seeking cosmopolitan status. Not only did women ride bicycles in public but also were encouraged to ride them. Finally, we propose a geography of flaneurie on bicycles; bicycle flaneurs, by dint of the bicycle's compression of time and space in a culture captivated by speed (Kern 1983, 109--30), could go places and do things pedestrian flaneurs could not and engage in the peripatetic individualism of modernism, the urban impulse to create 'a crowd of freely moving individuals' (Sennett 1994, 317-54).


Our purpose here is to establish the social and cultural geographic validity of a rarely considered phenomenon: the cycling penchant of late-Victorian women. True, general histories have addressed the issue of women and bicycles and their exuberant expression of 'new womanhood' gone wild (see especially Marks 1990, also Woodforde 1970; Harmond 1971-1972; Alderson 1972; Smith 1972; Norcliffe 2001). None, however, examine critically women and cycling as a gendered expression of publicity in an era when public space and its occupants, female and male, were closely monitored by the gatekeepers of bourgeois respectability (Strange 1995; Boisseau 2000; Domosh 2001; Howell 2001; Mitchell 2002; Mackintosh 2005). The appearance of women on bicycles is more than faddish apostasy or cultural anomaly, although in some cases, it may be both. The preponderance of bourgeois women on 'wheels' is also an expression of the embourgeoisement of public space. Recent work on public space in the nineteenth century acknowledges the efficacy of bourgeois conceptions of comportment in public space and the bourgeoisie's ability not only to confer meanings of order, aesthetics and efficiency to that space but also to claim it as its own (Domosh 1998, 2001; Domosh and Seager 2002; Goheen 2003; Mackintosh 2005). Women cyclists, insofar as they subscribe to bourgeois propriety, demonstrate a bona fide 'right to the city' [although we realise that the application of this phrase to privileged 'white' women turns Mitchell's (2003) social justice conception of 'the right to the city' on its head].

To demonstrate women's cycling-oriented right to the city and public space, we use primary sources from Britain and North America to make assertions about women's cycling impulse. We depend almost exclusively on cycling journals, popular magazines, newspapers and books, for three reasons: first, the general histories on bicycles incline towards description and/or pre-occupation with technological innovation (see, for example, any year of Cycle History: Proceedings: International Cycle History Conferences). Discussions of women, when undertaken at all, are generalized and spare and often emphasize the conservative point of view, namely, why medical professionals believed women should not ride bicycles. We acknowledge this paternalistic critique in this article but conclude it had little bearing on the praxis of women's cycling, including women's use of public space and the public's acquiescence to the presence of women on bicycles in public. Second, the more critical and theoretical secondary literature is rare. Therefore, consulting published primary accounts of both the cyclists and the social critics of the bicycle in the late nineteenth century provides us with, if not an historical truth about cycling, at least an idea of what people thought cycling was (on this historiographical point, see Akenson 1998, 11).

This leads nicely to our next point: there is a melding of Canadian and British (and some American) evidence here that is largely intentional. First, the British elite set the standard for high culture in the United Kingdom and colonies. Generally, as Great Britain went, so went the Dominions. Second, elite Canadians saw themselves as elite Britains and created what James Duncan (1992, 39) describes as a culture of 'Anglophilia', which explains the late-Victorian Torontonian urge to think of Toronto as 'the greatest British city in America' (Mackintosh 2001, 431). It also accounts for the elites' frequency of travel between the Dominions and the 'Mother country'--as, for instance, did Charles Sidey, the Founding President of the Montreal Bicycle Club and former President of the Edinburgh Amateur Bicycle Club. Repeated reference to Britain as the 'old country' or 'mother country' points to an almost seamless cultural union, while the number of British-made bicycles sold in Canada reflects strong economic ties. Even today, numerous Canadians revere Britain and have deep attachments to monarchy, aristocracy and Anglo-Saxon and Celtic traditions--Canada still has a Governor General, the Queen's representative and the de facto Head of State in a political system that is both a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy. This is a powerful intimation of both Canada's earlier fealty to the British crown and the profound cultural influence of waves of British immigrants. We maintain that there is nothing necessarily peculiar about blending the British and the Canadian experience, particularly as it affects cycling; the former influenced the latter.

Last, there is a connection between the primary sources and the activity of cycling itself. The sources we use here catered to the privileged in late-Victorian society, the target demographic of those boosting cycling for either cultural or economic purposes. In many cases, these two were the same, especially when cycling was construed as an expression of elite fashion. Our use of primary sources, then, supports a central assertion of this article: the elite's promotion of cycling to the elite itself made cycling acceptable, for men and women riders, because both had experienced at different times the censure of the public.


The Victorian era saw modern life advance on many fronts, one strand of that project being the female flaneur discussed here. There were, of course, numerous preceding developments that laid the groundwork of social modernity for the female cyclist. We will briefly situate historically, with a few key points, the particular transformation that we examine in greater detail below.

In his recent book on empire, Niall Ferguson (2003) suggests that, during the nineteenth century, the earlier British Empire of exploitation and spoils gave way to a Second (or Victorian) British Empire which combined its commercial activities with a cultural project to export an evolving British conception of civilization. By 1833, slavery had been abolished throughout the Empire, Christianity and Christian values were being exported, and with Victoria's marriage to Prince Albert, family values were stressed in a whole series of institutions designed to eliminate forever the debauchery of the Regency period. In 1851, with Prince Albert as the leading protagonist, the hugely successful Great Exhibition was mounted in Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace. Often seen as a promotion for British Industry, it was also, Simon Schama (2002, 150) insists, a showcase for the best of artisanal craft and, above all (in Prince Albert's view), presented a vision of a modern domestic Britain, strengthened by its industrial transformation. The Exhibition was symbolic of Britain's role as the workshop of the world, with the spectacle at Crystal Palace reputedly turning the Chartist agitators of the 1840s into the contented new consumers of the 1850s. Prince Albert used the Exhibition as a launching pad for his project to redesign the domestic lives of working people for better health and comfort (Schama 2002, 150) that included model worker housing and public parks. Victoria, meanwhile, sought to combine her conflicting roles as empress with her duty as a domestic woman (Schama 2002, 152).

Schama (2002) uses the metaphor of the beehive to describe the domesticity of Victoria and Albert's home life with their growing family. Their retreat at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, which was the preferred setting for their upper class private life, connects with our story for it was on a road close to Osborne that Queen Victoria first set her eyes on a tricycle. Intrigued with the possibility it offered for her daughters, she summoned the maker, James Starley, and ordered two examples to be delivered to Osborne House. It was this mark of royal favour that led the machine to be known, after 1881, as the Royal Salvo. This royal imprimatur helped to launch the tricycle boom of the early 1880s when this vehicle became a popular object of leisure in Europe and North America. The tricycle boom of the 1880s prompted the safety bicycle craze of the 1890s; both tricycle and bicycle demonstrated that women could enjoy the pleasures of cycling in public spaces without risking the dangers attendant upon riding a high bicycle. But the tricycle had its limitations, not least that it was heavy, slow and took up a lot of space. Bijker (1995) argues that social pressure on bicycle designers then encouraged them to develop a light, safe and faster bicycle for women. Within ten years, this goal was achieved, launching a period of bicycle flaneurie.

The Flaneur

As a wanderer of streets and dark alleys and as a passionate consumer of the Victorian urban spectacle, whether in Baudelaire's Paris, Benjamin's Berlin, James' London or Whitman's New York, the flaneur has traditionally typified bourgeois male publicity in the nineteenth century (Benjamin 1973; Sennett 1978; Buck-Morss 1986, 1989; Wolff 1990a; Walkowitz 1992; Wilson 2001). The 'fact and fantasy of urban exploration' (Walkowitz 1992, 16), the visual cataloguing of the difference that immigration, class, ethnicity, race, gender, poverty and desperation displayed in the city had long stimulated bourgeois male subjectivity in a city of 'Public Men [in] the 19th Century' (Sennett 1978, 195-218; see also Buck-Morss 1986; Pollock 1988; Wolff 1990a; McClintock 1995). Such a view blends with a feminist truism: the modern city was an urban environment created by and for middle- and upperclass men (Wekerle 1980; Mackenzie 1989; Domosh 1998, 211). Yet the reason the flaneur has been regarded as 'an exclusively bourgeois masculine type' (Pollock 1988, 67) has nothing to do with women's restriction from flaneurie or a deficit of women's interest in the city and its happenings. Women certainly perused the city (Nord 1995; Deutsch 2000; Spain 2000; Mackintosh 2005), substantiating Howell's (2001, 26) remark that the 'paradigm of urban spectatorship could not be exclusively authorised by middle-class males, or even exclusively by men at all'. Rather, the oversight resulted from the simple proclivity of men, such as Berliner flaneurs Walter Benjamin, August Endell, Siegfried Kracauer and Franz Hessel, intentionally to omit women from their musings (Gleber 1997, 68-9).

Within this romanticized tradition of supposedly unique masculine urban spectatorship and the 'powerful streak of voyeurism' that marked it (Walkowitz 1992, 16), flaneurie ostensibly gathered around the privileged city man's sight. His was 'the gaze of the flaneur', Benjamin (1973, 52) wrote, he 'who [sought] refuge in the crowd ... the veil through which the city lured [him] like a phantasmagoria'. But if visual apprehension seduced the flaneur, it was the vision of the crowd that tempted him. In The Painter of Modern Life (1863), Baudelaire mused famously about the flaneur and his obsession to mill in this shoulder-hitting congregation. 'The crowd is his element', thought Baudelaire (1964, 9), 'as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flaneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude'. Both the sight and the feel of the crowd lured the street-sensitive flaneur.

Undeniably, the flaneur's intermingling with the city-spawn derived from his eagerness to participate sensually, but there was more. Benjamin (1973, 36) revealed a 'flaneur who goes botanizing on the asphalt;' and the consequence of a flaneur's perambulations beguiled his notebook and fountain pen. In this light, Anke Gleber (1997, 67) defines the flaneur's penchant for strolling:
   By way of flaneurie--a mode of movement that is at
   the same time a process of reflection and a manner of
   walking with an attendant presence of mind and
   close attention to images--the flaneur transcends
   modern alienation through an epistemological process
   of intensive perception. He is at once a dreamer,
   a historian, and an artist of modernity, a character, a
   reader, and an author.... Surrounded by visual stimuli
   and relying on the encompassing power of his
   perception, the flaneur moves freely in the streets,
   solely intent on pursuing this unique and individual
   experience of reality.

This fits well with Benjamin's (1973, 37) oft-repeated line about the street becoming 'the dwelling for the flaneur...the walls are the desk against which he presses his notebooks'. The flaneur consumed the reality of crowds and streets to rehearse on paper 'the myriad impressions of day and night' (Wolff 1990a, 38), even if, as Benjamin insisted, these were 'socially dubious' writings (Benjamin 1973, 37).

The written word obtained, however, to only a portion of flaneurie. Richard Sennett (1978, 213) exposes, for this paper, another important layer of motivation:
   The flaneur, the "man of the boulevard" ... dresses to
   be observed ... [His] very life depends on his arousing
   the interest of others in the street: the flaneur is a
   person of leisure who is not an aristocrat at ease.
   The flaneur Baudelaire takes to be the ideal of
   middle-class Parisians, just as Poe, in "The Man of the
   Crowd", takes him to be the ideal of middle-class
   Londoners, just as Walter Benjamin later took him
   as the emblem for the 19th Century bourgeois who
   imagined what it would be like to be interesting.

The flaneur was a man of the crowd not a man in the crowd. He both transcended it, as a thoughtful agent of the crowd, and pursued it, as a self-absorbed seeker of the crowd, who was as much interested in others' marking of him as he was in his observation of them. We will return to this point, as it has much to do with female flaneurie on bicycles.

The flaneur's embrace of strolling anonymity allowed him to investigate. As Benjamin (1973, 40-1) wrote: 'If the flaneur is thus turned into an unwilling detective, it does him a lot of good socially, for it accredits his idleness. He only seems to be indolent, for behind this indolence there is the watchfulness of an observer who does not take his eyes off the miscreant'. Something about flaneurie induced the flaneur's gaze not only to turn investigative but also to cast a critical eye on crowds he surveyed; the use of 'miscreant' here is a discriminatory moralization of Benjamin, privileging the watcher over the watched.

This notion of watchful investigation connects to what Philip Howell (2001) has called the construction of urban 'knowingness', something he develops with great success in his discussion of sporting bachelors in London. As Howell (2001, 41) suggests, knowingness is not so much 'the desire to know, but to be one of those who are in the know, to be wise to the world'. Flaneurie, especially as it gathers around creating knowingness, then is both a visual and 'demotic' culture (Howell 2001, 42), whose observational and literary purposes involve but also transcend the personal interest of the flaneur; the flaneur watches to report to others about that watching. For example, it is no coincidence that a writer who called himself 'the Flaneur' penned the Saturday City column in Toronto's Mail and Empire. Writing in the 1890s about all aspects of Toronto, from the physical and social condition of the streets to the exploration of ways to best live in the city, 'the Flaneur' sought to build knowingness in bourgeois Torontonians; his interest in cycling in this regard is particularly telling. Flaneurie then includes the flaneur's provision of knowledge about the city and its people, and how both built and human spaces betray bourgeois proprieties-we may think of works such as Jacob Riis's (1890) How the other half lives as representative of this attempt to create knowingness about Lower East Side New York through his own flaneuristic observations of the tenement district.

To this point, then, the flaneur exhibits curious attributes: he is a wandering observer in and of crowded streets and arcades. Ironically, for one fond of anonymity, he inclines towards conspicuousness; he dresses fashionably to be seen. He is a detective, an investigator with notebook who commits to paper what he sees in the streets. He also looks with moral eyes on that which he sees, granting certain credibility to his action. If these work as standard descriptors of the flaneur, we shall use them to identify the female flaneur.

The Female Flaneur

Janet Wolff (1990b, 47), writing in the mid-1980s, suggests that 'there is no question of inventing the flaneuse: the essential point is that such a character was rendered impossible by the sexual divisions of the nineteenth century'. Wolff's understandable view of the impossibility of female flaneurie derives from second wave feminist knowledge of gender divisions in the nineteenth century that now, two decades later, seem less formal, less constraining, less supportive of expressions of the 'impossible' (Kerber 1988; Kerber et al. 1989; Cott 1990; Ryan 1992; Vickery 1993; Domosh and Seager 2002). Indeed, later research on public women is far more optimistic, more encouraging of the possible (Ryan 1990; Gleber 1997; Domosh 1998, 2001; Wilson 2001; Mackintosh 2005). Even Nord (1995, 12, 207-36), who suspects the idea of the female flaneur and who argues that fictional female flaneurs emerged from the Victorian woman's 'consciousness of transgression and trespassing ... and from her struggle to escape the status of spectacle and become a spectator', implicitly concedes the possibility in her chapter on 'The Female Social Investigator', an interpretation the following discussion will support. We follow Gleber (1997, 86), maintaining that 'the thesis of the "missing flaneuse" may too quickly foreclose our attention to instances of female flaneurie' that Gleber herself is keen to recover.

And while Gleber believes she may have found ephemeral traces of the flaneuse in Walter Ruttmann's film Berlin, Symphony of the City (1927), she need only to have looked in the right places: charity workers, home visitors, social settlement workers and reform-minded social Christian women activists of the turn of the twentieth century, although not usually labelled female flaneurs, met the criteria. These women walked the modern city, scrutinizing it for breaches in the standard of 'homelikeness' (Mackintosh 2005), which they used to adjudicate the worthiness of housing, factories, public and private institutions and even the very pavements of streets (Addams 1912; de Koven Bowen 1926 ; Stansell 1987; Flanagan 1990; Koven and Michel 1990; Scott 1991; Nord 1995; Rynbrandt 1999; Baldwin 1999; Deutsch 2000; Spain 2000; Mackintosh 2005). (2) As Jane Addams (1912, 288) suggested, many women, even working-class tenement women, 'saw that their housewifely duties logically extended to the adjacent alleys and streets'; hence, they prowled them, with moral eyes open for misdemeanors against their neighbourhood and city home. If the male flaneur was not 'at ease' in the street, as Sennett (1978, 213) observes, neither was the female flaneur as social reformer, whose disquiet with the degenerating conditions of streets of the modern city prompted her scrutiny. (3)

Reform women's inspection of the city and its people was not an end in itself; these women then made reports about their findings. Like traditional flaneurs, women reformers committed to paper their observations and made them widely known, although we seldom think of these writings as 'socially dubious'. On the contrary, as Mackintosh (2005) demonstrates, the Toronto Local Council of Women (TLCW) often turned their revelations into written reports that were copied and distributed to the Mayor, City Councilors and members of the Board of Control who, in more than one case, responded affirmatively to the TLCW's investigations. Birth-control reformer, Margaret Sanger (1920, 1930) implored governments and society-at-large, on paper, to consider the social, moral and ethical necessity of technologically regulating conception among tenement dwellers as a result of her explorations as a wandering public health nurse for New York City (and as a proprietor of a short-lived Brooklyn birth-control clinic). Certainly, Jane Addams' (for example: 1899, 1907, 1909, 1912) and Louise de Koven Bowen's (1926) reform writings derive from their investigations of Chicago and especially that city's tenement districts; Addams motivated many individuals and governments, often through her use of Halsted Street, the site of Hull House, and other streets as her writing desk.

Another important element of the flaneur was conspicuousness: the flaneur walked both to observe and to be observed, as Sennett suggests above. Yet we know this was also true of women reformers, who believed their civil comportment, their sense of aesthetics and good taste and their 'womanliness' were as much a part of their work as the work itself. Chicago reformer and founder of the Woman's City Club, Louise de Koven Bowen, always asserted the womanliness and respectability of social reform. (4) It is no secret that one's manifestation of wealth and fashion was a virtue in a bourgeois Victorian culture of conspicuous consumption (Horowitz 1980, 1985; Wright 1980, 1983; Lears 1981; Leach 1984; Bushman 1993); such display looms large in our discussion of women and cycling. Cultural historian, Mary Blanchard, suggests that women's fashion assumed a part in the late Victorian aesthetic movement and social reform ideology in general (Blanchard 1995, 22). Proper fashion and good taste in one's dress, as an 'individual expression of art and beauty' (Blanchard 1995, 23), equalled moral expression. For Tracey Jean Boisseau (2000, 41, 69), bourgeois feminist culture and feminist constructions of class, race and nation maintenance produced what she calls 'white queenliness', which fuelled national 'prowess and progress', where fashion played a supportive part in the generation of the woman/queen metaphor and women's expanding influence on the public (this idea of public woman-as-queen has profound implications later in the article when we begin to see royal women and women of the peerage promoting cycling). Just as male flaneurs employed fashionable sartorial comportment (on Victorian women's public employment of fashion, see Domosh 2001) to facilitate pedestrian liberty, so women cyclists used 'artistic graceful and becoming' (Willard [1895] 1997, 39) cycling fashions to validate both their bourgeois cycling passion and their presence in public.

Reform women as female flaneurs took to the streets with relative ease, aided by their affiliation with domesticity and bourgeois morality, their womanly comportment and the innate goodness of reform (Mackintosh 2005). Mona Domosh (1998) fittingly refers to this negotiation of the public as 'polite politics'. It requires little exertion, then, to imagine the effortless publicity of a woman cyclist, embodying as she does 'queenliness' through the height of fashion, on the most stylish technology of the 1890s, within a culture of conspicuous consumption. In the next section, we discuss the rise of the bicycle and its significance as a symbol of progressive technological modernism. In the modern city, where the density and heterogeneity of urban populations created a continuous sociological and infrastructural crisis (Park [1925] 1967; Adams 1935; Mumford 1938; Wirth 1938), technological modernism acquired providential meaning. Small wonder that commentators treated the bicycle as a modern miracle, 'the most remarkable, ingenious, and inspiring motor ever yet devised upon this planet' (Willard [1895] 1997, 75).

The Bicycle as Facilitator of Acquiescence/New Personal Geographies

By the last decade of the nineteenth century, the modern city began to acquire the built forms and geographies we recognize today (Jackson and Schultz 1972; Callow 1973; Barth 1980; Stelter and Artibise 1984; Jackson 1985; Schuyler 1986; Schultz 1989; Stelter 1990; Shumsky 1996; Walker and Lewis 2001). The pressure imposed on cities and their infrastructure, especially by huge increases in population because of in-migration in the 1880s and again in the 1900s, made technological solutions to population pressure a priority. From advances in skyscraper engineering to improvements in sanitation and road-building techniques (Schultz and McShane 1978; Schultz 1989), technology shone in its proficiency at problem abatement.

William Westfall (1989, 186), in his discussion of the connection between cultural materialism and Protestantism in the nineteenth century, states that technological advancement was widely construed as godly, 'technological change a divine reward for moral improvement', and because bourgeois Protestants believed themselves to be the harbingers of a new moral age (Carter 1971; Cook 1985; Marsden 1990), technology became an unmistakable expression of heavenly approval. Even Frances Willard, president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union and a great proponent of the bicycle, revealed 'her thralldom to modern technology and the providence of it bestowal' (Mackintosh 2001, 58):
   I woke thinking: is it possible that I am to be living on
   the planet Earth not only when the sources of the
   Nile, the heart of Africa and the secrets of the poles
   are to be hunted out, but when electricity is harnessed,
   printing is done by steam, the flying machine
   is invented (as a sequel to the bicycle where we well
   nigh take our leave of Earth) and that by the phonograph
   or telephone or cathode ray or spectroscope
   we are to hear the sounds & see the sights that make
   the Life Immortal sure? (Willard, journal entry,
   November 18, 1893, in De Swarte Gifford 1995, 398).

As Mackintosh (2001, 59) suggests, 'technology acted as not only a proof for the existence of god, but as a sure means to a practical end: the regeneration of the modern world and its problems'. The bicycle was a technological legitimation of the Victorian teleological view of history (on teleology and progress, see McGrane 1989).

The bicycle clearly illustrates the ability of scientific innovators to solve problems. By the 1870s, the bicycle had become a significant artefact of the pursuit of technological modernity, with designers directing tremendous effort into improving the machine, especially to make it go faster in races. Low resistance wheel bearings, rubber tiring, lighter-butted metal spokes, hollow rims, more effective brakes, lighter and stronger tubing and better gearing and steering led to rapid improvements in the efficiency of the bicycle; witness the succession of speed records that were broken at this time. These technical breakthroughs made it possible, by the 1880s, to mass-produce both bicycles and tricycles and to make a wide range of cycling accessories. With the advent of the safety bicycle, coupled with the smoother ride of the pneumatic tire, the bicycle placed the cyclist in the vanguard of technology users in the 1890s.

This was crucial for transportation: the bicycle gave the cyclist a personal vehicle that allowed the rider to choose his or her travel agenda. Scholars have noted the dire necessity of mass transit in the modern city (Holt 1972; Tarr 1973; Jackson 1985; McShane 1994); as Sennett (1994, 323) writes, cities deliberately 'aimed to create a crowd of freely moving individuals'. The bicycle perfectly suited this agenda, getting people off crowded sidewalks and streetcars and onto their own modes of personal conveyance. For people who found streetcar travel an outrage against civility and morality (Holt 1972; Tarr 1973), the bicycle was a form of liberation. As one Torontonian who resented being treated like a sardine remarked 'perhaps hundreds of people who, like myself, were prejudiced against bicycles two years ago, have bought wheels just to escape for half the year from street cars in which they are forced to cling to straps or poise on narrow footboards' (in Mackintosh 2001, 316).

It is no exaggeration to say that the safety bicycle and its riders contributed significantly to the social discourse of the fin de siecle, (5) Not only was the bicycle a modern emblem in its own right and adorned with attributes that marked riders as social innovators, but it commanded the attention of bystanders on the street with its noise-makers, alarms and an impressive--positively and negatively-harnessing of speed. It was also used to parade other innovations. Cyclists proffered the public new styles of clothing, hats, footwear, new parasols, new accessories and even new cameras. To be fashionable in the 1890s was to be fashionable 'a-wheel'.

Apart from material attributes, the bicycle introduced a new form of athleticism to the modern city, where overcivilization ostensibly led to a decline in 'the strenuous life' and a rise in softness, effeminacy and 'neurasthenia', a physical and psychic malaise that popularly beset urban Victorians, despite the dubiousness of the diagnosis (Lears 1981, 47-58; Bederman 1989, 1992; Rotundo 1993; Chauncey 1994; Kimmel 1996). Proponents especially advanced the notion of cycling-as-exercise to women; it had been a sport among men for two decades. And while doctors asserted both its harm and help to the female physique, one doctor, J. West Roosevelt (1895, 711), made the following attempt at balanced observation: 'Paraphrasing one of Lincoln's sentences, I would modify it and say that cycling is harmful to some women all the time; to all women some of the time; but not to all women all of the time'. Granted, Roosevelt administered numerous caveats that bespoke an ignorance of physiology, especially as it pertained to privileging the male over the female body, common to most physicians of his era (Vertinsky 1990; Garvey 1995). Still he maintained, '[t]here is no reason to think that a healthy woman can be injured by using the wheel and there is no reason not merely to think, but to know, that many women are greatly benefited by the exercise' (Roosevelt 1895, 711-2). Certainly, Willard ([1895] 1997, 38) believed that 'the physical development of humanity's mother-half would be wonderfully advanced by th[e] universal introduction of the bicycle'.

Truly, there existed social critics, physicians and everyday observers who 'consciously did not own a friend who bicycled' and who 'had almost learned to loathe the sight and sound of a bicycle'; its popularity and modern symbolism, its facilitation of 'new womanhood' and its contribution to traffic congestion, turned them icy. (6) However, it is fairer to say that most people came to condone the bicycle. Many writers noted the gradual approval of cycling in their rigid, conformist and zealously moral bourgeois society.
   Less sudden than what I have spoken of as a revolution
   has been the entire change of popular feeling
   on the subject of bicycles  I do not mean the feeling
   of those thousands who have lately become converts--slow
   unwilling converts like myself many of
   them--to the art of cycling, but the feeling also of
   those sections of society who, though for various
   reasons unable to ride themselves now tacitly
   approve of and encourage what a few years ago they
   condemned and abominated. (7)

The bicycle simply acquired respect, and as one commentator noted that it had 'come to stay was unquestionable. Its value has been generally recognised by all classes and by both sexes, by military authorities, the church, the professions, and the labouring man'. (8) This general recognition of value enabled suffragist, Frances Abbott (1898, 150), to report this anecdote about the ascension of bicycle toleration:
   I have lived to see the woman who never wished her
   daughter to have a bicycle ride a wheel herself in
   company with that daughter; and when I ventured
   to recall her former opinions she said with unblushing
   serenity: 'Oh, well, everybody rides now; the most
   fashionable people have taken it up; there is really
   nothing like it', and she began to chide me because I
   did not own a wheel.

And as everyone who was anyone began to ride, cycling and especially its controversial fashions became commonplace (see for example Marks 1990).

Another contemporary writer confirmed not only bourgeois women's widespread adoption of both bicycle and fashion but also the public's acceptance of both: 'The eye of the spectator has long since become accustomed to costumes once conspicuous. Bloomer and tailor-made alike ride on unchallenged; Tunicked and gaitored Rosalinds excite no more remark than every-day people in every-day clothes' (Merington 1895, 703). We know the writer, Marguerite Merington, exaggerated here: critics carped about fashion even at the time of her writing, 1895; one Chicago Alderman moved to have bloomers declared 'unhealthy, un-American, and unladylike'. (9) Still, Merington's claim is important: it suggests that those who set the standards for moral comportment in public--the bourgeois elite--accepted the bicycle and its women riders. Toronto's Mail and Empire columnist, 'The Flaneur', agreed: 'In New York there is no distinction of persons on the wheel, and for a women to ride there attracts no more attention for a man to ride a horse anywhere'. (10)

Hence, we may say that, yes, negative connotations of cycling existed in the early 1890s, undoubtedly related to the invective aimed at riders of penny farthings a generation before--one cyclist remembers 'foreswearing the silent wheel for a long season', because of its 'spider' wheels. (11) 'But', it seems, 'a few months passed and lo! The newspapers informed a rather skeptical public that the highest ladies of the land were patronizing the bike'. (12) Very shortly after the universal introduction of the safety, cycling became de rigueur.

Cycling was not restricted to the 'new Woman' or women who traded the domestic ideology of their mothers for an activist public agenda, even though the bicycle was the new woman's especial icon of cultural revolution and 'surely [thei]r greatest ally'. (13) Among even conservative and ageing bourgeois women, it became popular. Arguably, the most recognized of these was Frances Willard. Considered by her biographer to rival Queen Victoria in popularity in late-Victorian times (Bordin 1986, 13), Willard took up the bicycle when she was well into her fifties. Wanting to help 'women to a wider world', Willard wrote that there was 'a special value to women in the conquest of the bicycle by a woman in her fifty-third year, and one who had so many comrades in the white ribbon army [WCTU] that her action would be widely influential' (Willard [1895] 1997, 73). Fifty-three may not be old these days; in Willard's day it was, and pictures of her depict a woman even older. That cycling captivated Willard, and women like her who were born in the 1840s, at a time when constructions of domestic womanhood and women's bonds forged powerful ideologies about women's proper place and influence (Welter 1966; Smith-Rosenberg 1975; Sklar 1976; Cott 1977; Douglas 1978; Ryan 1981; Kerber 1988) suggest that we should not underestimate the bicycle's effect on women (Figure 1). (On the domestication of cycling, see Mackintosh 2001, 170-212.)


Neither can the pressure from bicycle manufacturers' advertising go ignored. Ellen Gruber Garvey (1995, 67) suggests, in a study of women, cycling, and advertising-dependent magazines between 1890 and 1910, that cycling for women was 'reframed' to advance cycling's heretofore 'social risks as benefits'. 'Advertisements', writes Garvey (1995, 70), 'visually proclaim[ed] a suitable woman's mode for riding on a suitably differentiated bicycle'. Willard, who never pulled a punch, stated the case even more plainly. She believed women's advancement through the bicycle would occur simply 'because it is for the interest of great commercial monopolies that this should be so, since if women patronize the wheel the number of buyers will be twice as large' (Willard [1895] 1997, 38-9). (14) And on this score, Willard seems to have been right; one writer 'venture[d] to assert' that in May of 1895, 'almost as many ladies' wheels ha[d] been purchased this spring as gentleman's [sic]. Our sex is gradually waking up to the fact that there is no disgrace in riding a wheel'. (15) Is Women accepted the bicycle's new normalcy in part, because advertisers promoted cycling as entirely fit for women and mothers by, for example, linking 'maternity and the bicycle', as Garvey (1995, 83) demonstrates using a Columbia Bicycle advertisement in the Ladies' Home Journal (1896).

As liberal and conservative women began to ride, organs that appealed to their differing feminist sensibilities (Bacchi 1978; Blocker 1985; Cott 1989) published articles about the proper conduct of cycling. Toronto's The Ladies' Journal (TLJ) regularly included columns on or about cycling, admonishing women not only about proper posture and exertion but fashion and comportment. 'Advice to Lady Riders', while directing them to use fashion properly, particularly bloomers, and to keep one's wheel well oiled, made this simple but telling statement: 'I think without exception that if cycling had never been invented, I, as well as a large number of other women, would never have experienced real pleasure'. (16) Meanwhile, 'Caution to Wheelwomen' advised TLJ readers to attend to the physical propriety of cycling: 'no ordinary woman who rides for pleasure once or twice a week should do over about 10 miles at a time'. (17) Whether or not the average woman rode 10 or 20 miles a week, it is unquestionable that some women rode much more.

Elizabeth Robbins Pennell (1897) published a cycling travelogue in Harper's in 1897 in which she undertook to ride through the geography of the English canon, at least partly, visiting places found in Dickens, Milton and Disraeli, to name but a few. Willard ([1895] 1997) writes of the numerous rides that were her custom that she took in the company of women friends in England and America, and Merington suggested that '[t]he woman of affairs has learned that an hour, or even half an hour, may be stolen from the working day, with profit to both woman and affairs' (Merington 1895, 703). It is important to note here that these 'working women' were not labouring women but organized bourgeois social Christians and/or liberal Protestants whose work consisted of social reform activities, their 'Home and Public Work' as the TLJ called it. (18) Thus, if individual women were stealing away for five hours a week, they were clocking a lot of miles on their wheels and seeing a good deal of the city as well.

Flaneurie on Bicycles (19)

Descriptions, engravings and photographs confirm that, like the classic flaneur, the new cyclists were attracted to crowds, often forming their own. There were athletic individuals who rode singly or in pairs to train, but most cyclists rode in groups on a social outing, or at least met up with other cyclists to form groups during their ride (Figure 2). Few commentators could resist extolling the virtue of the cycling crowd. They were often composed of members of bicycle clubs, which were established in all cities of importance. In Toronto, for example, a medium-sized city of approximately 180,000 in the 1890s, eight bicycle clubs operated in 1892; by mid-decade, there were at least thirty (Mackintosh 2001, 311). The Hamilton Bicycle Club, which for over a decade had been engaged in racing competitions with neighbouring clubs, in 1895 became exclusively a touring club, focusing on what we classify here as flaneurie, and the club purchased hotels in St. Catharines and Niagara Falls to house club members touring in large groups through the countryside (Norcliffe 2001, 198).


Canadian cyclists paled before the more sophisticated cyclists of London, Paris and New York, but even in Canada, cyclists donned elegant fashions and came from the wealthier classes. The 'bicycle crowd' generally excluded people belonging to the clerical and working classes, at least until the late 1890s, for two reasons: first, the cost of bicycles initially prohibited their use by workers; plummeting prices at the end of the decade made them more accessible. This is not to say that male and female labourers only watched the fun during the boom: Toronto had bicycle liveries that rented bikes by the hour and day. At 25 cents an hour, sewing girls and office clerks could now-and-again participate (Mackintosh 2001, 310). Second, cycling clubs vetted their new members, admitting only those who were socially acceptable. The Montreal Bicycle Club, for example, drew primarily from the city's contingent of white bourgeois Anglo-Saxons, despite the city's renown for its French and Jewish populations. The Toronto Bicycle Club flaunted its high social status. In 1890, it boasted recruiting the youngest daughter of Timothy Eaton, Canada's leading merchant prince at the time. Despite this, it is in Britain where we find the most persuasive evidence that flaneurie, especially among women, underwent a renaissance during the bicycle boom of the mid-1890s.

Much valuable evidence for flaneurie on wheels is found in the first twenty-six issues of the Cycling World Illustrated journal (CWI), published bi-weekly between 18 March and 9 September 1896. Both text and illustrations provide support for our contention: women rode bicycles with the approbation of the public. The editors of CWI understood that an arresting cover was good marketing. Every cover took the form of a full-page photograph (or engraving, in one or two instances) of a 'distinguished lady cyclist'. The personalities involved represent the cream of British society and testify to the interest of the haute bourgeois in cycling at this time. All but three of the personalities are titled, and it is clear that the three 'commoners' were well connected (Table 1). Women comprise all but one of the front cover personalities (British statesman, intellectual and cyclist, A. J. Balfour, appears on the cover of issue number 12). Distinguished gentlemen cyclists appear as full-page illustrations on inner pages. With patrons such as the Prince and Princess of Wales, the Duke of York and H.R.H. Princess Maud, the CWI reached the pinnacle of the social world; the journal consciously marketed itself to the upper and bourgeois classes. Flaneurie on wheels, like the original movement in Paris years before, evolved from privilege.

Because privilege and flaneurie on bicycles went together, the first flaneurs on bicycles were persons of high social standing. Other bicycling flaneurs took their cue from them. One such leader was the Countess of Warwick, the woman who occupied the front cover of the first issue of CWI. The Countess of Warwick stood
   amongst the first ladies of rank who caught that rabid
   disease commonly known as cyclomania. Her first
   machine was a convertible bicycle-tricycle, with
   which she used to cycle along the broad paths of
   Easton Park. So enthusiastic a devotee did Lady
   Warwick become of the pastime of cycling that, on
   leaving Warwick Castle, to spend some weeks in
   Easton, her horse and carriages were left in solitude,
   while she has been seen gaily devoting herself to that
   marvelously wrought toy of steel. However we may
   look at it, it must, indeed be considered a very high
   compliment for a lady, so fond as Lady Warwick is
   driving spirited horses, to fall in love with the
   bicycle. (20)

The ability of privilege to attract imitation forms a significant portion of cycling's public appeal. Because New York's elite women, the 'swell girls of the four hundred', and England's 'women of nobility' took to the wheel and because conservative bourgeois women such as Willard promoted cycling as a womanly and even domestic enterprise (Mackintosh 2001, 170-212), thousands of like-minded bourgeois women throughout the Western world believed they were given license to imitate them. (21) That the energetic and fashionable Lady Warwick and the dowdy and moralizing Frances Willard could agree on the bicycle suggests that cycling had the potential to appeal to a broad range of elite women.

The CWI targeted not all of the upper class but rather its younger members such as the Countess of Warwick. The Prince of Wales was on the wrong side of forty; most other enthusiasts were not. Thus, it was the vigorous younger members of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie that constituted CWI's readership. Of course, both women and men featured equally among flaneurs on bicycles. Symbolically, CWI chose a ladyfront tandem as its masthead.

Among the many illustrations presented in CWI, we offer two that provide superb images of flaneurie on wheels: 'The Cyclist's Parade, Hyde Park' by Barnard Davis (Figure 3) and 'A Sunny Morning in Battersea Park' by anonymous (Figure 4). In 'The Cyclist's Parade', bicycles mix with carriages inside Hyde Park Gate. In the foreground, an elegant lady cyclist in tony cycling habiliment--pinched waist, leg of mutton sleeves, wide lapels, a discreet veil and large floral hat-chats with a top-hatted gentleman. In the middle ground, half a dozen cyclists, female and male, all stylish are pedalling past. These are classic flaneurs out for a spin, going where their fancy takes them, active, observant, engaging in fleeting encounters and then pressing on with their ride. They are part of a crowd on the leading edge of leisure and fashion, exponents of social modernity in 1896.


'A Sunny Morning in Battersea Park' depicts a larger number of cyclists. (22) Rows of bicycles lineup against park benches as their riders stop to chat with acquaintances before pressing on. Once again, both men and women participate; most are presumably in their twenties and thirties. Elegance prevails; like the original flaneur, these cycling flaneurs ride to see and be seen. There is one noticeable difference that we cannot ignore: the nature of cycling and the condition of the roads demanded that flaneurie on bicycles remain, generally, a daylight activity as in this picture.

Such images confirm what we know about cycling in North America. In Toronto, observers witnessed 'tides' of men and women cyclists 'between Yonge Street and High Park' as they cycled 'steadily westward [toward High Park] during the morning and early part of the afternoon, while the shades of dusk s[aw] the same crowds of pleasure-seekers returning to their homes'. (23) And while at the park, these same people employed a manner and decorum, or hence we are told, that befitted a Sunday afternoon:
   [P]astors who have spent Sundays one way for years
   would be startled by a view of the Sunday life that has
   developed in this city, all unknown to them  [T]heir
   first surprise will be occasioned by the number of
   people who, having wheels, rush from the city to
   [High] Park. There they will be surprised to see
   fathers, mothers, and children riding in family
   groups and to the unmistakable respectability of
   most of those who form the crowd. But their greatest
   surprise will come when they begin to recognize prominent
   members of their own churches. (24)

Cycling towards, in, or away from parks, whether at home or abroad, occupied a great deal of time for flaneurs on wheels. The public perceived of the propriety of the activity and made cycling acceptable.

If any activity qualifies for Baudelaire's description of flaneurie it is cycling: 'only he who can go on a binge of vitality, at the expense of the human species, is he into whom in his cradle a fairy breathed a craving for disguises and masks, hatred of home, and a passion for travelling' (Baudelaire 1989, 21). Of course, the line about hatred of home is not literal. Cycling, with its thrill of speed, its exercise, its riding costumes and its travel, made flaneurs of women and men.

The Geography of Bicycle Flaneurie

The geography of flaneurie changed dramatically when appropriated by the bicycle. Whereas the flaneur rarely ventured beyond a city's streets, boulevards and parks, wandering at most a few kilometres from home, the bicyclists could comfortably cover 15 kilometres in an hour, making excursions of much greater distance possible and common. (25) The cycling flaneur might even spend a night away on an excursion, mixing flaneurie with tourism, as noted here:
   Winchester was crowded with London cyclists on
   Sunday and Monday, and one was continually meeting
   friends every few yards. The Stanley, North Road,
   and Anerley [bicycle clubs] were well represented,
   and it was a sight to see the crowds of riders of all
   clubs leaving the town on Monday morning for the
   long fight with the wind to London. (26)

Apparently, on an Easter Sunday, large numbers of London's cyclists headed down England's most prestigious cycling road through Ditton, Ripley, and Guildford, 65 miles to Winchester to spend the night. The writer twice uses the word 'crowd', an essential element of flaneurie, to describe the event.

Winchester's distance from London necessitated either a long weekend for riding or travel one-way by train. But the places passed-through en route, notably Ditton and Ripley, were enormously popular destinations for London cyclists on their Sunday outings. G. Lacy Hillier's description in CWI speaks for itself:
   There is probably no section of highway in her
   Majesty's dominions which is more frequented
   by the votaries of the wheel than the short 10 miles
   from "The Angel" at Ditton to "The Anchor" at Ripley.
   The latter hostelry  was most felicitously dubbed
   by the late Earl of Albermarle "The Mecca of all Good
   Cyclists" Sunday morning at Ditton! What a wonderful
   sight it is! Well may a writer on cycling have
   dubbed Ditton the Cyclists' Rialto. The latter-day
   cyclist asks "Did you hear anything at Ditton?"--and
   he asks the question for the same reason, all the news
   of the cycling world is to be learnt--where wheelmen
   most do congregate--at Ditton, and the man who
   seeks, or bears news is careful not to miss the morning
   muster. The latest information, the very newest
   rumour, the results of Saturday's racing on the path,
   are all to be heard at Giggshill, by those who wish to
   hear them (Hillier 1896, 5-6).

Discovering news, a peculiar obsession of modern city people (Henkin 1998), and reporting it was as much a part of the program of the flaneurie on bicycles as it was of the pedestrian version. Now, however, acquiring information required more travelling.

We have mentioned Elizabeth Robbins Pennell's cycling trip reported in Harper's; this suggests that women rode great distances on their bicycles. Novelist Dorothy Richardson's thirteen-volume autobiographic fiction, Pilgrimage, about the life of Miriam Henderson includes Miriam's '60 mile ride' (Richardson [1919] 1979, 226), 'to Chiswick ... on the Bath Road' (Richardson [1919] 1979, 231). With repair kit and knowledge of the workings of her bicycle, Miriam rides alone, at one point through Savernake Forest to Marlbourgh, at night. She exits the dark forest and into the stout disapproval of a male onlooker:
   Good Lord--It's a woman.
   She passed through the open gate into the glimmer of a
   descending road. Yes. Why not? Why that amazed stupefaction?
   Trying to rob her of the darkness and the
   wonderful coming out into the light. The man's voice
   went on with her down the dull safe road. A young lady,
   taking a bicycle ride in a daylit suburb. That was what
   she was. That was all he would allow. It's something in
   men ... (Richardson [1919] 1979, 234).

We know Miriam's long bicycle trip is hardly extraordinary for a bicycle flaneur. Neither is the fact that she is a single woman riding. Nor should we be surprised at the conservative reaction of the man, although it should not be construed as the reaction of all men. Many condoned women's cycling, which included lengthy excursions with or without company.

Flaneurie on bicycles had a seasonal dimension. During the mild English winter, cycling was quite feasible provided one modified one's clothing and accepted as inevitable mud splatters. The effects of winter discouraged the speed lust of cycling--in both women and men; even Willard ([1895] 1997, 50) 'did not permit [her]self to dread the swift motion round a bend'--and focused the social aspects:
   ... both from the point of view of enjoyment, as well
   as that of health, Winter riding often equals and
   sometimes surpasses anything summer has to show
   ... The enjoyments of Winter cycling are robust
   health, the joys of overcoming, the tastes of victory
   over mud, snow, headwinds and rough roads; and
   perhaps most of all, the pleasures of congenial
   society; for it is in winter, when racing does not
   keep men away, and when the state of the road
   usually bars disorganizing speed bursts, that
   friendly parties can best be collected and kept
   together, and the rare delight of a quiet ride with
   one's friends enjoyed. Congenial society for Winter
   rides is a pressing requirement. (27)

Note the comment about sociality. As Figures 1 and 2 demonstrate, much cycling activity was individual; women and men frequently rode alone. Winter on the other hand, rather than inhibit cycling, made it more convivial. Winter also gave the bicycle flaneurs a distinctly flaneurish quality: they could lose their Baudelairean halos in the 'mire of the macadam' (Berman 1981, 155).

This consideration of street and road surfaces occupied cyclists constantly. The bicycle is largely responsible for the impulse to pave streets with asphalt and improve roads generally (Guillet 1966; Woodforde 1970; Harmond 1971-1972; Alderson 1972; Smith 1972; Monkkonen 1988; McShane 1994; Bijker 1995; Baldwin 1999; Mackintosh 2001; Norcliffe 2001). More than once an observer labelled the bicycle 'a missionary of good roads', in an era known for its good roads movement. (28) The bicycle's pneumatic compatibility with clean, 'smooth and noiseless' pavements (Burnham and Bennett [1909] 1970, 82-83) such as asphalt, impelled city engineers to consider the needs of cyclists in their deliberations on infrastructure improvements. Mackintosh (in press) demonstrates the influence the Canadian Wheelman's Association had on both Toronto's city engineers and certain aldermen. Thus, in Toronto city, engineers kept a keen eye on 'the extensive use of asphalt pavements by numerous bicycle riders in this City' and determined 'to keep the asphalt roadways in perfect order' (Mackintosh in press). (29)

Limited or no access to decent riding surfaces hardly dissuaded cyclists from riding; but such pavements could aid the individual riders' maintenance of respectability and decorum. Bourgeois riders loved 'a gentle wheel through the cool evening air' on paved surfaces free of congestion, such as Toronto's Jarvis Street. (30) And because the early modern city offered few places within the city precincts to ride without encountering bad surfaces or congested traffic (Mackintosh 2001, 325-332), it posed difficulties for riders conscious of dignity and social standing. When a correspondent of CWI asked actress, Lily Hanbury, whether riding in London streets was compatible with the propriety and safety of the average woman cyclist, Hanbury replied:
   I would never advise even the most expert to traverse
   the crowded thoroughfares, like Regent Street,
   Picadilly or the Strand; but in many of the suburban
   districts, Kensington, and St. John's Wood, for example,
   women can ride without danger and with perfect
   propriety. The parks are so much frequented that one
   must always be on alert ... My sister and I seldom
   ride in parks, but when at intervals are attacked by
   cycle fever, we have our machines conveyed to a
   convenient station, go for a few miles out of town,
   and enjoy the full benefit of country lanes in all the
   beauty of the different seasons. (31)

Thus, Hanbury, at least, enjoyed the crowd, as long as it was not too crowded. A throng of horse-drawn and other vehicles could potentially impede the enjoyment of the cyclist and his or her flaneurie, although, as we see below, bikes could be found in the heaviest traffic.

Again, this is another important point of distinction between traditional flaneurie and the bicycle variety. Traffic congestion in the central business district of the modern city was the topic of many an editorial, and editors and witnesses in general could agree that fin de siecle traffic made the streets decidedly unsafe; (32) and because the bicycle thrived on freedom of movement, certain hours of the day repelled cyclists. This is not to say there were no bicycles; they contributed vitally to the congestion of cities, as in Toronto:
   The number of streetcars in motion about the corner
   of Yonge and King Streets, for example, are enough
   for most people to look after; and when to these are
   added the numerous carts and carriages, many of
   them driven by unskillful and reckless persons,
   crossing the street is very much like running the
   gauntlet. What then shall be said of the chances of
   escape when one finds sandwiched in between these
   the numerous and ever-increasing host of bicycles? (33)

However, this type of traffic affair was not conducive to flaneurie on bicycles or the dignity of the rider, and if the reader notes the date of this source, 1898, the bicycle congestion in Toronto here is a tangible acknowledgement of the inauguration of universal access to the bicycle as a result of falling prices.

Still, it is precisely because of this public perception of cycling as proper that enabled women cyclists to manipulate bourgeois consumerist constructions of public propriety to aid their free use of public space. People noted the need for attenuated bearing in public, even connecting it to flaneurie and bicycle clubs. A Toronto woman, after a bad encounter with an ill-mannered cyclist, knew the reason. In Germany, cyclists required sanctioning and qualification from a bicycle club before gaining access to the streets. (34) Bicycle clubs, as congregations of male and female flaneurs, represented probity on the wheel, insisting that riders manifest decorum through dress, conduct and class.


To borrow a phrase from Patrice Petro (1997, 43), the bicycle has, here, allowed us 'to situate woman as an inhabitant of the city she so frequently serves to represent'. If bourgeois urban women ever were geographically constrained by ideologies concerning their right to occupy public spaces, this discussion has shown that, in the 1890s, bourgeois women cyclists could ride alone in the streets. They pedalled not only with impunity but also with the acquiescence of the public and especially those who determined the standards by which bourgeois comportment was adjudicated. Many former despisers and denigrators of the bicycle themselves became its votaries and chanted its benefits.

The existence of female flaneurs, street-walking women social reformers established the moral public precedent for women on bicycles. Like the women social reformers, women bicycle flaneurs went wherever they chose whenever they chose, at least within the parameters of safe riding and riding etiquette. As Hanbury noted, no woman cyclist of any skill should take a bike onto the Strand, or Piccadilly, which is not to affirm that women did not, only that the congestion and traffic were dangerous. But she also suggested that when the mood struck, she and her sister would take their bicycles and go wherever they pleased, and if Hanbury avoided parks--she was after all a celebrity and one of those distinguished women on the cover of CWI--many women went to them in droves. Parks were key sites of flaneurie on bicycles, though not exclusively so. Bicycle flaneurs rode from town to town, sometimes staying overnight, creating a bicycle subculture of privilege abetted by taverns, roadhouses and inns, and like their rambling cousins, the sight and feel of the crowd on the road or in the roadhouse excited them.

It is the bicycle's outward symbolism of class, however, that enabled women to ride without restriction. Cycling, during the bicycle craze, belonged to people whose power to consume--in a society and era that invented conspicuous consumption-gave them the advantage of respectable appearance; and bourgeois women, as quintessential Victorian consumers, understood not only the value of presentation of women 'as artistic subjects', but also the power of its persuasion (Blanchard 1995, 22). It seems only natural that

Willard ([1895] 1997, 38) 'rejoiced' over the bicycle, 'perceiving the impetus that this uncompromising but fascinating and illimitably capable machine would give to that blessed "woman question". Willard, like others, could see that the bicycle was an answer.


We thank Lawrence Berg and our anonymous reviewers for their comments.


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(1) For a good, although hardly exhaustive, cross-section of works illustrating this qualification on women's publicity see Smith-Rosenberg (1985); Peiss (1986); Stansell (1987); Ryan (1990); Strange (1995); Domosh (2001).

(2) Nord (1995, 207-36) cannot see 'the female social investigator' as a female flaneur, '[her] province of scrutiny ... not the street or the workplace but the home'. Addams (1912, see Chapter XIII: Public Activities and Investigations, 281-309), however, indicates that many social investigators in Chicago scoured streets and workplaces, in some cases becoming municipal authorities over both (see also Robinson 1899, 774)

(3) There is tension between the idea of the flaneur-as-incognito and flaneur-as-anonymous. Under the former, a female social reformer as flaneur would simply not obtain; women flaneurs openly displayed their fashions and class. We use Sennett's (1978) conspicuous flaneur to establish this female flaneur. Further, the incognito flaneur is problematic: incognito for whom? It is a conceit that allows the flaneur to think he rambled unseen. Many street dwellers would have seen him, day and night, and his dress would have set him apart from them. Instead, we distinguish between incognito and anonymity; the latter suggests not concealment or secrecy but a visibility although an unidentified presence, clothes and bourgeois demeanor. An incognito flaneur must deliberately conceal his identity and risk arrest for vagrancy.

(4) De Koven Bowen (1926, 101) insisted that she performed her social reform duties always arrayed in attractive fashions, overtly relating reform to her social standing. She wrote that tenement 'women wanted good clothes, [and] they liked to see me dressed smartly I always told my friends that I had to keep up a certain number of social activities in order to get my name in the papers to please the Hull-House Woman's Club'.

(5) See for example, the 1895 Scribner's Magazine spread on 'The Bicycle', featuring articles by Philip J. Hubert (1895), Marguerite Merington (1895), James B. Townsend (1895) and J. West Roosevelt (1895).

(6) 'My Friends Who Cycle' The Living Age, 210, 2715: 185.

(7) ibid, 184.

(8) Mail and Empire, 23 April 1895, 6.

(9) 'Revolving Wheel, Evolving Dress', Mail and Empire, 25 June 1895, 8. On the unacceptability of bicycle fashions, see especially Marks (1990).

(10) 'The Flaneur', Toronto Mail and Empire, 25 May 1895, supplement.

(11) 'My Cycling Experiences', Toronto Mail and Empire, 6 April 1895, supplement.

(12) 'My Friends Who Cycle', The Living Age, 210, 2715: 189.

(13) 'The Passing of the New Woman', Cycling, 17 July 1897, 47.

(14) This idea should be entirely acceptable to any reader familiar with the history of women and the department store. As scholars have shown (Barth 1980; Leach 1984, 1994; Abelson 1989; Domosh 1996; Rappaport 2000), the department store, like bicycle manufacturers, specifically targeted women and their purchasing potential, despite any extant mores that would ostensibly delimit women's publicity.

(15) 'Another Champion of the Wheel', The Ladies' Journal, 15, 5 May 1895, 7.

(16) 'Advice to Lady Riders', The Ladies Journal, 15, 2 February 1895, 12.

(17) 'Caution to Wheel Women', The Ladies Journal, 15, 8 August 1895, 11.

(18) This appears on page eight of every edition The Ladies' Journal.

(19) We acknowledge that some readers, after Buck-Morss (1986: 102), may object to the idea of flaneurie on bicycles; for them, such flaneurie may not be possible, given that cycling contributed to the 'traffic that did [the flaneur] in'. As Benjamin (in Buck-Morss 1986: 102) had contended, 'It]he speed-up principles of mass production had spilled over into the streets waging "war on flaneurie". Perhaps, but we maintain that bicycle flaneurie is a plausible modernist adaptation of the original.

(20) Cycling, 15 June 1895, 358.

(21) Mail and Empire, 14 May 1898, part II: 4.

(22) Many similar images appear in other cycling magazines of this era. See the 22 June 1895--page 374--issue of Cycling for 'An Early Morning Scene in Battersea Park'.

(23) Mail and Empire, 9 April 1898, 6.

(24) Saturday Night, 4 July 1896, 1-2.

(25) We recognize the pedestrian vitality of the flaneur in the age of walking.

(26) Cycling, 20 April 1895, 222.

(27) Cycling, 9 February 1895, 60

(28) Mail and Empire, 23 December 896, 4.

(29) We cannot provide direct evidence of women cyclists' consideration of and involvement in the good road movement. Mackintosh (2005, 39-40) has shown that the Toronto Local Council of Women (TLCW) took on the roads question in that city. We may reasonably speculate that some TLCW members were cyclists, given that the TLCW was a voluntary association of Toronto's elite women. However, insofar as women's cycling clubs did exist, and the Canadian Wheelman's Association represented these clubs, women were to some degree instrumental.

(30) Mail and Empire, 28 July 1898, 6.

(31) Cycling World Illustrated, 6 May 1896, 169-170.

(32) See, for example, 'The Safety of the Street', Mail and Empire, 16 May 1898, 4.

(33) ibid.

(34) Mail and Empire, 30 March 1895, 7.

PHILLIP GORDON MACKINTOSH Department of Geography, Brock University, St. Catharines, ON, Canada (e-mail

GLEN NORCLIFFE Department of Geography, York University, North York, ON, Canada (e-mail:
Table I

'Distinguished Lady Cyclists' appearing on the front
cover of Cycling World Illustrated, Issues 1-26,
March to September, 1896

1. The Countess of Warwick

2. Lady Norreys

3. The Marchioness of Londonderry

4. H.M. The Queen of Italy

5. Lady de Trafford

6. H.R.H. Princess Maud

7. The Dutchess of Montrose

8. Miss Lily Hanbury

9. The Hon. Coralie Glyn

10. Lady Sophie Cadogan

11. Countess Annesley

12. The Rt. Hon. A.J. Balfour *

13. Viscountess Gentworth

14. Lady Griffin

15. H.R.H. Princess Victoria of Wales

16. Lady Idina Brassey

17. The Countess of Mayo

l8. Mrs Clifford Cory

19. Lady Rossmore

20. The Hon. Mrs Arthur Sommerset

21. Lady Algernon Gordon-Lennox

22. Mrs W. Grenfell

23. The Dutchess of Manchester

24. Lady Grey Egerton

25. Lady Edith Franklin

26. Lady Walker

* The Rt. Hon A.J. Balfour, then president of National Cycling Union,
and soon-to-be Prime Minister of England (1902-1906), is an exception.
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Author:Mackintosh, Phillip Gordon; Norcliffe, Glen
Publication:The Canadian Geographer
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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