Today we are joined by Roger Gilles
, Director of the Honors College and Professor of Writing at Grand Valley State University, and author of Women on the Move: The Forgotten Era of Women’s Bicycle Racing
(University of Nebraska Press, 2018). In our conversation, we discussed the rise of women’s velodrome racing in the American Midwest in the 1890s, the business of six-day cycling, and the gender politics of women’s racing.
In Women on the Move
, Gilles recovers the history of women’s cycle racing in the 1890s. Female scorchers like Tillie “The Terrible Swede” Anderson, Lizzie Glaw, and Dottie Farnsworth barnstormed across the Midwest from Oklahoma City to Pittsburgh. Their sport proved to be popular, even more so than men’s endurance six-day events. They raced on steeply banked short tracks, pedalled at speeds up to 30 miles per hour, braved severe injuries from crashes, dealt with wardrobe malfunctions, and won enormous prizes. They were America’s first famous female athletes.
Gilles’ work traces the intersections that gave rise to women’s bicycle racing in the 1890s. Tillie Anderson and the other racers navigated the cycling boom, which followed the invention of the safety bike; the rise of the suffrage movement; the increasing industrialization of midwestern cities; the migration of millions of Europeans to the United States; and the gender politics of the Victorian era.
The craze ended almost as quickly as it began in the early 20th century – replaced by automobile racing, undermined by charges of fixing, undercut by lower revenues, and damaged by the increasingly strategic and tactical insight of the racers that made the sport more professional but less exciting for spectators.
Women on the Move
restores women’s racing to the pantheon of 19th century American sport and will appeal to readers interested in the overlap between cycling, sports business, migration, and gender.
Keith Rathbone is a lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He researches twentieth-century French social and cultural history. His manuscript, entitled A Nation in Play: Physical Culture, the State, and Society during France’s Dark Years, 1932-1948, examines physical education and sports in order to better understand civic life under the dual authoritarian systems of the German Occupation and the Vichy Regime. If you have a title to suggest for this podcast, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.