Bicycle’s Profound Influence on Women Explored in New Exhibit at the Coronado Museum of History & Art

Image from Coronado Museum of History & Art
Image from the Pryor Dodge Collection

From the press release:

Women and girls on bicycles are so ubiquitous today that it is hard to imagine a time when they were discouraged from riding, not just in the United States, but all over the world. Men on bicycles were a fairly common sight by the mid-1880s, but women were considered too fragile, and the feminine fashions of the day too constrictive, to partake in the new craze. But that all began to change in the 1890s, the era explored in a new exhibit opening June 26th at the Coronado Museum of History & Art: “Bicycles & Bloomers: Women’s Emancipation and the Bicycle.”

This exhibit is the first of its kind to focus exclusively on the relationship between bicycles and women that occurred in the late 19th century. Historical artifacts from Coronado, including an antique “High-Wheel” from 1885, vintage bloomers and Victorian-era textiles held in the museum’s collection will be displayed as well as over 40 loaned pieces from one of the larges collection of bicycle artifacts in the world—the Pryor Dodge Collection.

Pryor Dodge is a well-known musician and dancer who fell in love with bicycles as a child and as an adult has amassed a collection of over 2,300 original artifacts, chronicling their history. He now owns a top collection according to “Forbes” magazine (December 2000).

Pieces from the Pryor Dodge Collection to be featured in “Bicycles & Bloomers” include lithographs, posters, prints, trading cards, postcards and historical photographs featuring women and children discovering the benefits and delights of a remarkable new mode of transportation. The evolution of women’s fashions to accommodate a ride on a “two-wheeler” is also evident in these images.

Image from the Pryor Dodge Collection

The name “bloomer” was attached to a new undergarment designed in 1850 by Libby Miller, a cousin of Amelia Bloomer. It was fashioned after a pair of Turkish trousers she had seen on her travels. They were designed to be worn under a shortened skirt, thereby making it easier for women to cycle. The bloomer became a symbol of the “rational dress” movement at the end of the 19th century as various forms of more practical dress evolved.

It would be several more decades before women would have the right to vote, but as they took to the bicycle, they experienced a heady sense of freedom and improved health that inspired them to seek more control over their own lives.  According to Pryor Dodge, “…the tricycle and the bicycle thus helped to liberate women from their clothes and by extension, from their domesticity and isolation.”

Susan B. Anthony, American feminist leader and suffragist, declared in an interview with the New York World in 1896, “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling…I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”

Women who visit this new exhibit at the Coronado Museum of Art & History may be surprised to learn of their predecessors fight for the right to wear less constrictive clothing and ride out as men had been doing for several decades before them. But they are guaranteed to leave with a sense of gratitude for their efforts.

Image from the Pryor Dodge Collection

“Bicycles & Bloomers: Women’s Emancipation and the Bicycle” is made possible with the support of the San Diego County Supervisors Community Enhancement program.  The exhibit opens June 26 and will continue through mid-October 2010. Suggested donation, $4.

The Coronado Museum of History & Art is located at 1100 Orange Avenue in Coronado. For more information, log onto or call (619) 435-7242.


Susan Enowitz, (619) 435-7242

Pam Crooks, (619) 992-3414.

Edit 6/24/2010: Pryor Dodge emailed informing us that the press release had some facts wrong. I have edited this post to reflect some of the details more accurately such as the fact that Dodge owns one of the largest collections of bicycle artifacts in the world and not the largest collection.