nonfiction nuggets…when woman + bicycle = freedom

Tillie the Terrible Swede: How One Woman, a Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History, by Sue Stauffacher, illustrated by Sarah McMenemy

In the year 2000, Tillie Anderson, a woman who was born in Sweden in 1875, was inducted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame.  Who was she?

She was a an immigrant to Chicago, a spunky seamstress, the best female cyclist in the world, and a trailbreaker for women’s rights…the right to ride and race bicycles, that is!

Tillie arrived in Chicago when she was 16 years old and was quickly enamored with bicycles.  After saving her money, earned in a tailoring shop, for two years, she bought herself a bike. Then,  to her mother’s considerable consternation, Tillie rejected the prevailing opinion that women must only ride in elegant figure-eights, if they rode at all.  No, Tillie wanted to ride like the wind.

Tillie began building her strength and endurance, and most scandalous of all, tailored a bicycle-racing outfit for herself which freed her from the unmanageable, billowing skirts of the day!  Horrors!!  In 1896 she entered her first real race, a century race –100 miles on the road — and broke the women’s record by eighteen minutes.  Tillie then began racing in earnest, touring the country to compete in velodrome bicycle tournaments, and maintaining the title of best women’s cyclist in the world from 1897-1902.

Meanwhile, Tillie broke old stereotypes about the supposed ill effects of strenuous exercise on a woman’s body (!), and became a friend to women’s rights activists such as Susan B. Anthony, who thrilled at the emancipation and self-reliance  that came from women riding bicycles.  Those of us who live in great bicycling cities like Minneapolis ought to cheer Tillie, the terrible Swede, who paved the way for us and our daughters to commute, exercise, and enjoy life on bicycles!

This is a delightful, short biography of Tillie Anderson.  The illustrations, in vibrant gouache, are charming, bright-eyed, cameos of life at the turn-of-the-century mingled with the zing and energy of Tillie herself.  There is an Author’s Note, but alas! as it is located under the back jacket flap, those of us checking this book out of our libraries aren’t able to read it.  You can find out more on-line if you’re interested.

Here’s the link to the book at Amazon: Tillie the Terrible Swede: How One Woman, a Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History