A new addition to the Lilly Library collections is the Cycling mss. The collection consists of images, clippings, and ephemera documenting the sport of cycling in in the U.S. in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
A scrapbook of newspaper clippings detailing cycling accidents and cycling news from 1896 was created for the Statisticians Department of the Prudential Insurance Company of America. This snapshot of late 19th century cycling culture gives us some perspective on current tensions between motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists.
Bicycle accidents covered in the scrapbook involve scorching (i.e., speeding), railroad stunts, and an array of collisions. Cycling collisions in the 1890s appear to have included everything from roosters and canal boat mules to trains and trolley cars. Perhaps the most amusing article in the scrapbook is one describing a cycling path made slippery by caterpillars.
Another unsettling problem was the absence of dependable brakes on most bicycles.
A major controversy of the era was whether or not cycling was appropriate for women. Some community leaders such as Mrs. Charlotte Smith, President of the Woman’s Rescue League, argued that straddling bicycle seats posed a threat to women’s purity. Perhaps even more dangerous was the idea that bicycles would give women a newfound sense of independence.
The collection is in the process of being digitized. The digitized content can be accessed through the finding aid: http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/findingaids/lilly/InU-Li-VAD0285. Interested visitors also may view the Cycling mss. in the Reading Room at the Lilly Library.
Isabel Planton, Reference Associate, Lilly Library