Cross-dressing c 1910

Cross-dressing c 1910. Courtesy of Antigonish Heritage Museum. Restoration: Betty Cameron

B5 - Cross-dressing c 1910

The history of women’s right to ride a bike coincided with the modern women’s movement in the 19th century. In 1895, Frances Willard, the long time President of the early American Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU)and World’s WCTU wrote the book. How I Learned to Ride a Bicycle. She was 53 years old and this was just another addition to her “Do Everything” mantra – dress reform, prison reform, women in the pulpit, and of course women’s suffrage and temperance.

Willard led the charge in challenging the opposition that women on bicycles was not ladylike, or worse, that it either led to unnatural (monstrous) sexual appetites or debilitated healthy childbearing. A theatre piece by Toronto performance artist Evalyn Parry, called SPIN, leads off with a quote from Frances Willard on the bicycle as a vehicle for healthy living and social change:

See also the YouTube trailer

I began to feel that myself plus the bicycle equaled myself plus the world upon whose spinning wheel we must learn to ride or fall into the sluiceways of oblivion and despair.

                                                     – Frances Willard, 1895

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    This story and image makes the point that TODAY men wearing dresses is contentious and called “cross-dressing” whereas we would not blink an eye at women wearing trousers. Not so in 1910. These three women were clearly wearing men’s trousers, and taking up men’s behaviours — like smoking and biking. Even today, women do not typically wear suspenders to hold up their trousers.

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    Dangerous Antigonish Women Who Could Have Made this Book

    Snapshots of Dangerous Women Hardcover – March 31, 2015
    by Peter J. Cohen (Author), Mia Fineman (Introduction)

    For the awesomely daring women in our lives comes the perfect gift: a jewel of a book that collects vintage candid snapshots of women enjoying unconventional activities. For the last two decades, Peter Cohen has been combing estate sales and flea markets collecting vernacular, or “found,” photography taken in the middle part of the twentieth century. In his collection are countless images of women of all ages in various unconventional activities for the time: there are women swigging booze out of a bottle, boxing, playing pick-up football, smoking, or shooting arrows or guns—incongruous and playful behavior, all the while often performed in lovely dresses. Snapshots of Dangerous Women collects many of these period photographs, showcasing women from the thirties, forties, and fifties who are equal parts badass and rebellious, and, above all, clearly having a lot of fun. This charming book makes the ideal gift for the bold and free-spirited women in our lives.

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