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A Wheel Within A Wheel

Frances Willard

Frances Willard wrote many books and countless speeches, newspaper articles, pamphlets, etc during her busy life as a temperance reformer and women’s rights advocate. One of the most interesting is the little book she wrote about her experience late in life of taking up the new hobby of bicycle riding. In honor of the start of summer, here is an excerpt from her book How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle (originally published in 1895 as A Wheel Within A Wheel). Some say this little book was the first sports book written by a woman. It is the only book by Willard you can still purchase new today.

If I am asked to explain why I learned the bicycle, I should say I did it as an act of grace, if not of actual religion. The cardinal doctrine laid down by my physician was, “Live out of doors and take congenial exercise”; but from the day when, at sixteen years of age, I was enwrapped in the long skirts that impeded every footstep, I have detested walking and felt with a certain noble disdain that the conventions of life had cut me off from what in the freedom of my prairie home had been one of life’s sweetest joys. Driving is not real exercise; it does not renovate the river of blood that flows so sluggishly in the veins of those who from any cause have lost the natural adjustment of brain to brawn. Horseback riding, which does promise vigorous exercise, is expensive. The bicycle, however, meets all the conditions and will ere long come within the reach of all. Therefore, in obedience to the laws of health, I learned to ride. I also wanted to help women to a wider world, for I hold that the more interests women and men can have in common, in thought, word, and deed, the happier will it be for the home. Besides, 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 of temperance workers that her action would be widely influential.
Then there were three minor reasons: I did it from pure natural love of adventure — a love long hampered and impeded, like a brook that runs underground, but in this enterprise bubbling up again with somewhat of its
pristine freshness and taking its merry course as of old. Second, from a love of acquiring this new implement of power and literally putting it underfoot. Last, but not least, because a good many people thought I could not do it at my age.

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