Elia Peattie, an Uncommon Woman


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(Elia W. Peattie.)

She had always said she would never get a wheel.

"You ought to have a wheel," her friends would say; "why, you're just the person for a wheel."

She always shook her head and looked superior.

"You may think I am the sort of woman for a wheel," she would say, hurriedly, "but I am not."

Her friends gave it up, finally, and let her lie in hammocks, ride on street cars and be dull to her heart's content. One day, however, she came home and said to her husband:

"Well, I'm going to get a bicycle."

"I thought you said you were never going to get one. What has changed your mind?"

"I didn't change my mind. I caught the bicycle germ. I know there is one. You remember when the grip started several years ago. I said I thought it was all nonsense, and that no one had the grip. They only thought they had it. When I was coming home one day I got the grip—never knew how I got home, and didn't much care whether I got there or not. I haven't got over it entirely to this day. You remember? I thought you did. Well, it is just the same about the wheel. Coming home today I was seized with a mad desire for a wheel. Now, I must have it. I want it next week. Do you think we could pay for it in installments?"

That is the way it seizes everybody. The fever has only recently reached the proportions of an epidemic in Omaha. Omaha is a conservative city, and is always moderate in its enthusiasms. Denver has been alive with wheels for years past. Not only have the energetic men and women, the athletic men and women and the sensible men and women ridden their wheels, but men and women who, above all else, made a specialty of being fashionable have had their wheels. In Omaha only a few of those whom one would unhesitatingly pronounce leaders of our fashionable set have caught the wheeling fever. But the last two or three months have shown a tendency toward the epidemic, and within the last week it has been especially noticeable that the asphalt pavements have been thronged with cyclists.

Two women sat together on the front steps the other evening talking about bicycle costumes.

"There go some bloomers now," said one, "aren't they disgusting?"


"Oh, because they are so unwomanly."

Six men turned the corner, riding in threes, with perfect correspondence of time.

"That looks something like," said the lady who had objected bloomers.

"It does look fine," admitted the other, "but don't you think women would look as well if they were dressed in as trig a manner? Women ride with better balance and more harmoniously than men. All they need is knickerbockers, tight coats and caps to look every bit as well."

"I never thought you would say anything like that," the other protested with reproach in voice and eye.

"But," persisted the defender of wheels, "I have often seen you at evening parties with your dress cut so low in the neck that I or anyone could see all of your bare shoulders. Yet no one thought that unwomanly, although it was the bare flesh you showed, and not merely the outline of the figure."

"Well, custom has made that permissible. Besides it is beautiful."

"It's beautiful when it is beautiful. Probably it would be the same with the wearing of knickerbockers. But one doesn't wear them to be beautiful. One wears them as one would a gymnastic suit, for convenience."

"I shall never think it anything but immodest."

"The Turkish women wear trousers. Yet no one accuses them of being immodest. They are so far from it that they will not even show their faces."

"I'll admit," said the other, "that there may be something in it of prejudice. No human being is ever consistent. Modesty is a question of education. But I doubt if the American public will ever become educated up to bloomers and knickerbockers."

"You may be sure of this: The American public will see a decided change in costume during the next ten years. The bicycle is destined to work a revolution in woman's dress. It has come to stay—the wheel, and the development of a freer and more convenient dress for women is to be a part of the new century. It may be regarded with dread, disapproval and even contempt. But it will be a fact. There is no escaping from it."

They didn't agree, but they changed the conversation.

Omaha World-Herald, 23 June 1895, 8

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