16 December 2009

A Historical Chic Cycling Treat

I am lucky enough to have a brother-in-law who is a historian. He sent this wonderful gift for all of us. What amazes me while reading this is how very similar Ethel's journal entries are to the entries and comments in modern chic cycling blogs. The more things change...!

Today I came across a journal of a chic cyclist from 1897, and wanted to share some of it with your blog. In her day a bike was referred to simply as “a wheel”. Attached are two scans from the journal as well.

Selected entries from the journal of Ethel Starr Mack of Benton County, Oregon, 1897:

portrait of Ethel Starr Mack, lady cyclist in Benton County Oregon 1897

April 8: I worked today on a wheeling suit which I am making of my old blue dress. I am making a sleeveless Eton jacket with a sailor collar trimmed in white braid. I think I shall like it quite well…. We have heard that our wheels came to Lebanon [Oregon] today, by stage.

April 12: Our wheels came today. Mine is a beauty! The prettiest wheel in town, so everyone says. It is dark green with dark red and black lacings. I can ride already. I learned in the College hall – after practicing half an hour I could ride across the Hall. After three-quarters of an hour I could go around the hall. After school tonight Effie Holt and I went up to the Hall with our wheels but so many were riding I could not try mine, so Herschel, Effie and I went down to the college track. Soon the whole crowd followed. There were nine wheels on the track! I rode around it several times but I did not have strength to ride more than once and a half around the baseball diamond without resting. Herschel looks the best of the boys on his wheel. They all said I learned remarkably fast. Herschel took supper with me and Ali, Wayne and George and Amy were there besides spectators. We had a nice time and I rode five miles and was not much tired. Herschel and I came back together and went to the spring for a drink.

April 20: I sewed some on my machine today and it works nicely. I am making a shirtwaist of my old blue chambray skirt to wear with my wheel suit….

April 21: Herschel took me down to the track and we rode together. I rode seven miles and at once I rode a mile and a half without stopping. Herschel and Gilbert went to Albany today and got them new wheel suits. Herschel looks so handsome in his. He has gray pants and a red sweater and stockings….His wheel cost him $22.50.

May 1: This being May Day I made a May basket of green and white crepe paper lined with pink, and filled it with flowers.

May 2: Mama told me to take my wheel and go to the track. I did so and Allie and I rode four miles without stopping.

May 7: Herschel came down and we started out for a ride. It was my first attempt to ride on the road. I wore my new wheel suit for the first time. We found the first mile too rough for riding but after that it was nice. Coming back we sat down under a tree to rest, and Herschel graded an examination paper. I was not much tired when I reached home and Herschel praised my riding. It was altogether the happiest ride I have taken.

a drawing from the journal of Ethel Starr Mack lady cyclist in Oregon 1897

As an aside, when I googled "Ethel Starr Mack" I was happy to see that she's buried alongside her husband Herschel. Long live bike romances!


Mike said...

Coolest thing I've read in a long time. Thank you for sharing this!

I see Ethel lived until 1961 and Herschel until 1956... makes me want to know the rest of their story, on and off the wheel.

JPTwins said...

that is beyond fantastic! i love this! you're absolutely right that it sounds like you, except you don't refer to your "wheel suit". Hmm, maybe you should...

she wrote, "but I did not have strength to ride more than once and a half around the baseball diamond without resting" and I have a feeling that's more about how tough the bikes were to ride rather than her skill, since she later talks about riding 7 miles. I imagine they weren't as comfortable as what we ride now, and there was probably a lot more friction.

then again, her bike looks JUST like the standard omafiets that gets ridden in Holland nowadays!

Frits B said...

According to http://www.westegg.com/inflation/infl.cgi
22.50 equates 585 in today's money. Bikes have become quite a bit more expensive generally, but then they are a lot better equipped, too. And labor was very cheap then.

MamaVee said...

amazingly cool! I want more!

Astroluc (Find me on Tumblr and Instagram @Astroluc) said...

Wonderful! One of the things I love about bicycles is the fact that, aside from continuing refinement, the design is largely unchanged for the last 100+ years since the "safety bicycle".

Thank you for sharing this, it was a blast to read... and I want a bike romance! :)

Cosmo said...

I love that she was working on her wheeling suit from her old blue dress!

Velouria said...

Wow, thank you for sharing this! What a great story of a bicycle-themed love connection, and I love it that the track-to-road issue remains relevant in our times. I am inspired to make myself a wheeling suit!

kfg said...

Ethel's machine was by no means a crude device. It was pneumatic tired and ball bearinged. Both easy and comfortable to ride. It was state of the art and looks like an Oma of today because it essentially is one - if your Oma is a fixie.

Meaning no disrespect to the lady, but she was a novice who had only ridden around an indoor hall before and this was almost certainly her first athletic endeavor. In her favor a baseball diamond is no great surface to ride on. That is where the high friction would have come from.

Her 7 mile ride was nearly two weeks later and her longest stretch without a rest was 1 1/2 miles. In her favor the roads were likely not much better than the baseball diamond. Maybe worse.

Trisha said...

I love this! thanks for sharing your b-i-l's incredible find.

ann said...

this warmed my heart, as i'm a historian, too. "wheeling" was a real feminist act back in the 1890s -- i love it! speaking of which, the great temperance leader frances willard wrote a wonderful book called 'wheel within a wheel' that you can get on amazon. here's an excerpt: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5038/

Anonymous said...

she's probably wearing a corset, too, which means she could not take deep breaths.

Christa said...

"I was not much tired when I reached home and Herschel praised my riding. It was altogether the happiest ride I have taken."

Really touching. Thanks for sharing!

kfg said...

"she's probably wearing a corset"

The Ethel of this diary was a young progressive. She wouldn't have been riding a bicycle in the first place if she weren't. In modern terms, although her clothing appears "Old Fashioned" to us, she was a "Hippie" and adopting modern, "rationalized" clothing was very much part of that. Young women such as Ethel largely eschewed corsets just as hippies in the 60s burned bras.

For those who could not quite go so far unstayed, unlaced elastic corsets were introduced, just as we now have "soft cup" bras as an alternative to the 50s "nose cones."

After WWI (which is what actually killed the corset as, the by then metal, stays were needed for the "War Effort") this elastic corset would evolve into the Control Top Girdle of my mother's generation.

Unknown said...

Charlotte this is so excellent, exactly up my alley - I loved the whole story! I can specially relate - taking an old article of clothing and re-purposing into something more suitable for riding! My favorite source of fabric for my helmet covers is re-purposed out of fine woolen clothing I find at the thrift stores. Ethel and I would have been great friends.
Kfg...I am so impressed with your knowledge. I never knew this side of you before!

Bikejuju said...

I love this, thanks for posting.