Bicycle speed & dress in music & quotes 1890-1907
“I’ll tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood.” SUSAN B. ANTHONY, 1896
Before the automobile and trucks took over, the 1890s were the golden years of bicycling, both in the US and in Europe. Before the gramophone and radio took over, the 1890s were the golden years of sheet music, both in the US and in Europe.
The two Golden Ages overlapped, leading to an outpouring of music about cycling. Two-steps, cake walks, schottisches, bicycle rags, marches and gallops were all the rage.
‘Daisy Bell’ of 1892 by Harry Dacre is the only of the 1890’s bicycle songs that’s still in popular use. Long forgotten, there was a genre of music concerning ‘scorching’, the art of going fast by bicycle. To others it was too fast; to the early bicyclists to be a ‘scorcher’ was a badge of pride, an athletic accomplishment.
“The desire to ride at an unreasonably high speed may become morbid…The ever lasting scorcher, bent like a hoop, and with sunken cheeks, ought to be quite sufficient warning against this abuse.” The Bicycle (1892) E.F. Korns
As famously described by American women’s rights leader Susan B. Anthony in 1896, cycling was one of the key tools of female emancipation. Anthony, like her friend and fellow feminist Amelia Bloomer, advocated universal suffrage but also called for ‘rational dress’, the fashion for less restricting women’s garments. Bloomer didn’t invent the leggings named for her, but she popularised them. ‘Athletic bloomers’ allowed women to cycle more easily. It’s interesting that in ‘The Scorcher’ from 1897, the publisher has started off with the heroine in a dress but she was later shown wearing bloomers, also known as ‘rationals’, relatively radical attire for the day.
“I had a lot of fun on that old bicycle. I sat down and figured up my mileage, and I found out that I’d been clear around the world, if I’d gone in a straight line. “Yessir, I’d been over twenty-five thousand miles. Went over three hundred and sixty-five miles one week. Never did a century run, though I could’ve, easy as not. Some fellers used to see how many of them they could run up. “I got out the shop one day at four o’clock. At twenty-six minutes after, I was down in Dexter’s drug store in Waterbury, drinkin’ a sody. How’s that for scorchin’?” MR. BOTSFORD Thomaston, Connecticut, memories of 1905 relayed in 1939 ‘American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project’
Sheet music from the Norman Batho Collection. MP3 of ‘The Scorcher’ can be downloaded for free at www.tinyurl.com/quickrelease MP3 played by Greg Johnston www.gregjohnstonmusic.co.uk