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A Petal Pedal Brochure Features Governor Geer and his Bike

How great is this! GeerCrest Farm is featuring the nephew of Ralph Carey Geer, Governor Geer, during the Petal Pedal ride on the 23rd!

The farm is offering camping facilities before and after the ride, as well as optional and additional Sunday brunch.

You can see the full brochure here. It calls the 1901 replacement bill the “first,” but that title actually belongs to the law of 1899.

Still, a small quibble on a very handsome brochure.  Bravo!

Here are two ads I don’t know exactly how to interpret. They shimmer with ambiguity, and it is difficult to get inside the head of a “typical” reader from the 1890s. What did they mean to the target audience, who are most likely men?  Presumably they both employ humor – but what’s the joke exactly?

(Do the intentions of their creators, also likely men, matter as well? I’m inclined to focus more on reception than on intention, and I think the reception will exceed and swerve around the intent, but perhaps you’ll have a better idea.)

The images don’t fit neatly into the binary pair of “Angel in the House” or “Madwoman in the Attic” – they are ambivalent and unclear.  They suggest freedom while at the same time limiting it, suggest praise but also the back-handed compliment.  We aren’t at a full embrace of bloomers and ballots.

We've sold our horse and buggy...I'm a going down to the City Now and Buy a Bike for Sarah

It’s hard to know whether Sarah is a wife or daughter, and whether the hayseed – and I take him for one – is being made fun of for getting a modern conveyance for his wife – who if she’s younger might use it to leave him!   Or is he progressive and modern, a relative good guy?  Or perhaps this interpretation just maps modern preoccupations onto a more innocent image.  The focus, though, is on male agency, not on Sarah’s.  What’s going on here?

Here’s another one.

Battle Ax is a "Scorcher" because it sells so fast...and goes so far

The OED first attests to “battle axe” used for a forceful woman in 1896. This ad is from July 1896! Are we seeing an early use for the word?  Is it a joke?  Attitudes towards the woman seem ambiguous: She’s young and kinda “hot,” possibly drawn as an object of desire, but she’s also derided as a “scorcher,” someone dangerous. Of course it’s a benign form of scorching: coasting down a hill quickly, not running over people on the sidewalk. So she’s not too dangerous, maybe just alluring with a whiff of brimstone.

But the metaphors get more twisty: The ad equates chewing tobacco with a scorcher – this woman is scorching – so there’s a second-order implied act of eating the woman? Is this hostility towards the liberated woman? The take on sexuality here is not clear, but it’s difficult to imagine there’s not something going on. It’s ambivalent with a lot of push and pull.

Not a matter of culture or sexual politics, but do note the bike is a fixie, whose pedals rotate rapidly when coasting, which is why she has to elevate her feet over the front tire. On descents, pedals were known to have severed arteries in lower legs and caused death! And of course she’s not wearing a helmet.

And is there a secondary audience of selling tobacco to women?  I mean, this could operate simultaneously for men as a joke on women, and ironically operate for women as a laudable image.

What do you know about broader cultural signifiers in the late Gilded and early Progressive Eras?  If you can unpack these images better, please drop a comment!

Ladies Bike on an Unidentified Seattle Sidepath Circa 1900

Over at Seattle Now and Then there’s a great collection of posts touching on the Seattle path system around 1900. Seattle apparently had about the same ownership rate of 10%. Based on the photographic evidence, it looks like Seattle may have built out more of the path system than Portland and other places in Oregon.

Check it out!

What great news! The Cycle Oregon Weekend Ride will feature bike history! The Cyclecentennial ride will be based at the oldest university in the West and feature two other important territorial sites.

Willamette University was founded in 1842 by Methodist missionaries.

French Prairie was a hotbed of activity, and Champoeg and the Willamette Mission were also important sites before statehood.

Today there are state parks at both sites (Champoeg and the Mission) and the ride will visit both of them!

Governor Theodore Thurston Geer purchased a bike on February 14, 1899 – at least, that’s what Portland bike dealer Fred T. Merrill wanted us to think. A year before, his first bike was headline news and Geer had started commuting to the Capitol by bike.

Not long after, in May 1900, Geer biked from Salem to Champoeg for the new Oregon Historical Society to locate the site of the 1843 meeting where the very first pioneers decided to form a territorial government.


Writing about the trip in the spring with good weather he said:

It was a perfect day, with a firm north breeze, not a cloud in the sky; the roads were in good condition, the crops were growing splendidly, birds were singing everywhere, seemingly to be in harmony with Nature’s glad mood – it was, in short, just that sort of day which is known in all its wealth of joy, beauty, and inspiration only in the Willamette valley in the spring and summer months.

Geer also lived up in the Waldo hills, east of Salem towards Silverton, and perhaps the rides will also go by his uncle’s farm and maybe even his own land just a couple miles away.

July 15-17 will be very exciting for the lucky riders!

Last month in her talk “From Spokes to Sprockettes: A History of Women and the Bicycle,” Professor Jennifer Dill discussed the strong overlap between women interested in bicycling and women interested in woman suffrage. Indeed, the bicycle became an important instrument for an increasing intellectual, emotional, and economic independence of many women.

Dill’s talk, and the writings of many, draw examples over a half century or more, and from across at least two continents. Particularly in an advocacy context, reflections can sometimes become idealized and a bit hazy. This picture of “law abiding women suffragists” was taken in London in 1913, for example. There’s a social history of bicycling, however, and the meaning of a woman on a bike in London in 1913 is different from a woman on a bike in Portland in 1913, and from a woman on a bike in Portland in 1895.

Think of it this way. The significance of a person using a walkman in 1990 is very different from the significance of a person with a walkman in 2010. Cycles of innovation, technology, and fashion weren’t so compressed a century ago, of course, but as we look at transitions in transportation technology circa 1900, a twenty year interval still makes a difference.

So what about here in Oregon?

We are still far from a complete story of the meanings and activities around bicycling circa 1900. Without saying anything about causation, I believe there’s an interesting and not surprising – maybe even obvious – correlation between women on bikes and the bicycle path building. Essentially this period lasts about decade, from 1895 to 1905. The limits of 1895 and 1905 are not definite, of course, but the are a good guide, and 1899 will be a convenient center point. Additionally, women did bike past 1905, but society leaders did not. At this time bicycling lost prestige and shifted from being a leading edge activity of high-status to being a lower-status activity. Continue Reading »

[Talk given to the inaugural session of the Oregon Scenic Bikeways Committee, at Travel Oregon HQ, on January 21]

The Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway has only been around since 2005 and the concept of a bikeway might seem pretty new.

But in fact, Oregon has had people working on scenic bikeways since at least 1896, more than a century ago.

In Oregon’s sesquicentennial year, we should think about Oregon’s first Golden Age of cycling. Continue Reading »

(This is a largely speculative essay in draft form. I hope to refine its arguments – and lose a pinch of jargon! – as I find more evidence. I expect to update and revise it substantially after I think on it more. Hopefully readers will comment & critique!)

When the Statesman published a story about the League of American Bicyclists recognizing Salem as a “bicycle friendly community,” some online comments gave me pause and spurred me to visit a topic that I’m pretty sure is rarely discussed in bicycling circles: class. The vast middle is missing in talk about bikes and bicycling. Some see biking as the effete recreational activity of the leisure class; others see it as an activity for kids and immature adult losers who can’t manage the responsibilities of adulthood, which include car-driving. The middle ground, the image of adults who bike because it’s a reasonable transportation choice, is largely missing. Why is that? Continue Reading »

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