Cantab Women Hit The Road In World First – 1892

In August 1892, witnessed by their male counterparts of the ‘Bicycle Touring Club’, the first all woman’s bicycle club was established in Christchurch. This was the first of its kind in the world and was known as the ‘Atalanta Cycling Club’. Atalanta was a female athlete in Greek Mythology.

The main driving force behind this scandalous new project was Blanche Lough. Her twin sister Bertha, Alice Burn (well known dress reformer) and famous suffragette Kate Sheppard were also amongst this small group of brave women.

At this very first meeting, the conversation soon became heated over the topic of a uniform. The men preferred that the women stayed with their formal attire of the full length skirt whereas the women were keen for knickerbockers – which were already being worn by American women for other sporting events. After all, some of these ladies had already disguised themselves as men to take to the streets on their bicycles in the early evenings, where twilight offered more protection. What they were doing was illegal so extra care had to be taken.

In the 1880’s, real interest in cycling by women had become more of a reality with the invention of the ‘safety bicycle’ which had a lower frame and pneumatic wheels. This made way for the heavy skirts and petticoats however it was not perfect. The uniform discussion even reached the newspapers…

“A lady puts her right foot on the pedal, gets on to the saddle holding her left foot in readiness to meet the left pedal when it comes around. She usually finds her skirt between her foot and the pedal and has to disengage it the best she can with her foot, as both hands are occupied”.

This argument was not settled for weeks.

Christchurch was not at first very welcoming of these future thinking women. In fact, husbands and brothers had to accompany the club while they went out on their day trips as stones were sometimes thrown at them. But just four years later, public attitude had changed and with more women on bikes, the club closed as their revolutionary point had been made!

Pictured here are the Lough twins, Blanche (left) and Bertha (right) in 1892. In the background is their brother, ready to accompany the girls on their ride, his presence hopefully putting off any verbal or physical assault from happening.  Blanche went on to support the kindergarten movement, the Red Cross and was the first woman to win a motor car race in New Zealand!

*Image courtesy of Ed Coop*

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