Bicycles, Birth Control, and Women’s Rights: “Bicycling has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” — Susan B. Anthony

March-April 2022: A Note from Hope Katz Gibbs, publisher, Inkandescent Women magazine — We celebrate International Women’s Month 2022 with a quote by Susan B. Anthony about one of the greatest changes in women’s rights: The bicycle.

“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel — the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

Indeed, when modern bicycles were invented in the 1890s, it was a social revolution for women. As you’ll read in this month’s cover story featuring “Women in White Coats,” about three Victorian women who became the first female doctors, bicycles provided freedom of movement for women of the era who were idealized for virtues such as domesticity and motherhood. The bicycle afforded an accepted way to step outside and become a larger part of society — including when it came to business and politics.

Wheels of Change

Speed for escaping chaperones. Less burdensome clothes for riding. The bicycle’s little-known role in equal rights.

Nearly two million bicycles were being manufactured each year and were being sold throughout the country, and this simple mobility helped to accelerate women’s rights, explains author Sue Macy in her breakthrough book, Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom.

Sue explains: “It’s hard to grasp the full extent of the bicycle’s impact on Americans in the late 19th century. Imagine a population imprisoned by their very clothing; the stiff corsets, heavy skirts, and voluminous petticoats that made it difficult to take a deep breath, let alone exercise.

“Add to that the laws and social conventions that cemented a man’s place as head of the household and holder of the purse strings. How suffocated women must have felt. And how liberated they must have been as they pedaled their wheels toward new horizons.”

Access to Birth Control 

“Suffrage laid the roots for women to expand their professional abilities, have access to higher education, fight for fairer wages, and expand their reproductive rights,” explains reporter Jacqueline Pelella in The Power to Decide. “These changes bloomed with second-wave feminism in the 1960s, which fought for equal representation for women in the workforce. Women broke into previously male-dominated fields such as medicinelaw, and politics. The question of birth control and family planning became a top priority for many women as they strove to achieve high career goals while also being a mother.”

In the 1960s, the Food and Drug Administration approved the birth control pill, which allowed many women to plan if, when, and under what circumstances to get pregnant and have a child. In 1965, the US Supreme Court ruled that married couples could use birth control in Griswold v. Connecticut. This ruling paved the wave for reproductive freedoms and birth control legalization to extend to unmarried women, as happened after Eisenstadt v. Baird. In 1970, Congress passed Title X of the Public Health Service Act, which granted federal fund coverage to family planning programs. These programs included contraception which allowed women access to the pill at an affordable cost.

By 1974, most states passed laws allowing women aged 17 or 18 to access the pill without parental consent. According to a study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute in 2013, these landmark Supreme Court decisions, along with FDA approval of the pill, helped women complete higher education, join the workforce, and climb the professional ladder.

The fight is not over

What’s Abortion Got to Do With It? Don’t miss this three-part series, featuring award-winning filmmaker Tracy Schott, founder of, Texas attorney Kelsey McKay, and social worker Erica Olson who unpack the devastating impact of the Texas abortion law to help us understand what it says, its potential impact on women currently trying to get out of abusive relationships, and what we can all do to stand up for the rights of women and children.

Thank you so much for taking the time to be part of our Truly Amazing Women project at Inkandescent Women magazine. — Hope Katz Gibbs, founder, Inkandescent™ Inc.