A few days before Labor Day, Chattanooga hosted the River Gorge Omnium bicycle races. But few Chattanoogans know that 122 years ago, this city's Cycling Club hosted its first Labor Day Bicycle Races at a "driving park" (in today's Warner Park) on McCallie Avenue. The track and stands have long since been razed, so we are left to imagine the cyclists whirling around the track.
It was Sept. 2, 1895. The "safety bicycle," the forerunner of the common-day bike, was all the rage in America. This was the first bike that most folks could ride. But this new pastime brought controversy to many corners of American society. The "New Woman," an image personified by "the Gibson Girl" in artistic renderings, and fueled by a revolution in women's fashions, also took to riding "the wheel" in most cities around the country - except in the South.
Shock above all shocks many of these women wore bloomers!
That same September, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner proclaimed, " in almost every southern newspaper the appearance of a pair of bloomers is treated almost as would be the coming ashore of the sea serpent." Chattanooga's own Graham Cycle Co., located on East Eighth Street, advertised a women's drop-down bicycle in April 1895. But there is scant historical evidence to show that women were riding here, let alone in bloomers.
Such an activity was considered unladylike, if not scandalous!
Read more Chattanooga History Columns
- Gaston: Paul John Kruesi was Edison's right-hand man
- Robbins: The old Richardson's house and the Civil War
- Gaston: James Williams was a man of the world
- Raney: Mason Evans, the 'Wild Man of the Chilhowee'
- Gaston: The legacy of Adolph Ochs endures
- Martin: Ed Johnson said, 'I have a changed heart,' the day before his lynching in Chattanooga on 1906
- Thomas: The inventiveness of Judge Michael M. Allison
- Moore: Chattanooga's first Chinese community
- Summers, Robbins: Chattanooga's Tuskegee Airman - Joseph C. White
- McCallie: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 says so!
- Gaston: John McCline's Civil War - from slave to D.C. parade
- Raney: Exploring Chattanooga businesses in the Green Book
- Elliott: Remembering the Freedmen's Bureau in Chattanooga
- Gaston: Nancy Ward was a beloved, respected Tennessean
- Martin: Prohibition - the noble experiment
- Elliott: 'A shameful, disgraceful deed': The destruction of the Sewanee cornerstone
- Gaston: Robert Cravens was ironmaster, Chattanooga area's first commuter
- Robbins: Dr. T.H. McCallie's Christmas 1863
- Robbins: Journalist writes of a trip to Missionary Ridge in 1896
- Summers, Robbins: Mine 21 disaster - gone but not forgotten
- Elliott: Collegedale incorporates to avoid Sunday 'blue laws'
- Gaston: 'Marse Henry' Watterson's journalism fame began in Chattanooga
- Robbins: Orchard Knob battle recalled in 1895
- Elliott: Chattanoogans joined in an 'orgy of joy and gladness' on Armistice Day, 1918
- Thomas: Noted service, speakers are marks of Rotary Club of Chattanooga since 1914
- Summers and Robbins: Remembering noted Tennessee author North Callahan
- Raney: 'I auto cry, I auto laugh, I auto sign my autograph'
- Gaston: Sequoyah's alphabet enriched Cherokees
- Robbins: A look at Sam Divine's life during the Civil War
- Robbins: Memories of a Confederate nurse
- Robbins: More notes from Bradford Torrey's 1895 visit to Chickamauga Battlefield
- Robbins: Journalist in 1895 details visit to Chickamauga Battlefield
- Elliott: Telephone exchange firebombing was distraction for grocery store robbery
- Gaston: Worcester brought Christ's message to Cherokee at Brainerd Mission
- Robbins: 1896 travel diary: 'A Week on Walden's Ridge'
- Gaston: Elizabeth Strayhorn, WAC Commandant at Fort Oglethorpe
- Robbins: The history of the Friends of Moccasin Bend National Park
- Moore: Do you own a Sears Roebuck home?
- Summers and Robbins: Camp Nathan Bedford Forrest in World War II
- Gaston: Hiram Sanborn Chamberlain remembered
- Elliott: Daisy the center of tile, ceramic manufacturing in Hamilton County
- Gaston: FDR inaugurates the Chickamauga Dam
- Summers, Robbins: Interned WWII Germans had it easy at Camp Crossville
- Elliott: A war correspondent on Lookout Mountain
- Gaston: Chickamaugas finally bury hatchet in Tennessee Valley
- Gaston: Chickamaugas in Chattanooga
- Robbins: The history of the Riverbend festival
- Raney: Sadie Watson, the first woman elected in Hamilton County government
- Moore: Remembering Chattanooga's Hawkinsville community
- Elliott: Welsh coal miners transformed Soddy after the Civil War
- Gaston: Chattanooga's best-kept secret
- Elliott: Cabell Breckinridge loses his horse
- Raney: Martin Fleming is the people's judge
- Gaston: The amazing career of Francis Lynde
- Martin: Hamilton County's Name Sake: Alexander Hamilton
- Summers, Robbins: The crosses at Sewanee
- Bledsoe: The fiery truce at Kennesaw Mountain
- Moore: Talented architect's life cut short by tragedy
- Rydell: Chattanooga's place in soccer history
- Robbins: Tennessee Coal, member of the First Dow Jones Industrial Average
- Raney: In the barber chair
- Lanier: Becoming the Boyce Station Neighborhood Association
- McCallie: John P. Franklin: Living history among us
- Barr: Chattanooga's first railroad: The Underground Railroad
- Summers, Robbins: Charles Bartlett was a Pulitzer Prize winner, Kennedy confidant
- Rainey: 'We have seen it'
- Elliott: Feinting and fighting at Running Water Creek and Johnson's Crook
- Gaston: The Spring Frog Cabin at Audubon Acres
- Raney: Wauhatchie Pike was moonshine motorway
- Robbins: Oakmont was home of venerable Williams clan
- Summers and Robbins: Rebirth of the Mountain Goat Line
- Elliott: Bad investments led to Soddy Bank failure in 1930
- Summers and Robbins: Pearl Harbor attack left football behind
- Gaston: Jolly’s Island namesake had long ties with Sam Houston
- Return Jonathan Meigs, Indian Agent
- Moore: Did you know about St. Elmo's other two cemeteries?
- Summers: Orme - Marion County's almost lost community
- Davis: Spooky revival at Sharp Mountain in 1873
- Robbins: The story of Longholm
- Raney: Women labored to help the U.S. win World War I
- Even in the city, the 'wheel' changed everything
- Murray: Confederate dilemma after Chickamauga
- J.B. Collins — Newsman extraordinaire
- Robbins: The Story of the Lyndhurst Mansion
- Chattanooga artist and wife lost on the Lusitania
- Chattanooga History Column: Battelle, Alabama and the Battelle Institute
- John Ross, a founder of Chattanooga
- Hamilton County casualties in World War I
- Chattanooga Power Couple
- 'Somewhere in France'
- The Ray Moss family
- Battery B from Chattanooga
- Ulysses S. Grant, Clark B. Lagow, and the Chattanooga Bender
- Songbirds Museum Timeline
- Hamilton County World War 1 roster
- The Soddy Girl and the Memphis Belle
- Blues icon Bessie Smith was the Empress of Soul
- Women's Army Corps at Chickamauga
- Emma Bell Miles' life at the top of the 'W'
- The Tivoli Wurlitzer is one of Chattanooga's priceless assets
- Chattanooga in struggle for freedom during Civil War
- October 1918, Chattanooga paralyzed by Spanish flu epidemic
- Eli Lilly and the Ditch of Death
- One hundred years ago, Chattanooga goes to war
- The legacy of Anna Safley Houston
- Harriet Whiteside was ahead of her time
- Southern Adventist University
- Chattanooga native's writings aided Civil Rights movement
- Zion College, Chattanooga's only African American College
- The North Shore's hidden past
- Mayme Martin -- Businesswoman and community leader
- Thomas Sim's epic struggle for freedom
- Top of Cameron Hill was price of rerouting interstate
- Cameron Hill has rich history
- Temperance movement included Harriman university
- The sweetest music this side of Heaven
- Conquistadors at Chattanooga
- Chattanooga and the 'General'
- Chattanooga's first Thanksgiving, 1863
- Chattanooga's greatest flood caught city unaware
- Opening the Cracker Line
- European trip in 1900 enlightens Sophia Scholze Long
- Sophia Scholze Long spoke out when others were silent
- Little South Pittsburg and its big silent movie stars
- Lot attendant recalls hottest job in Chattanooga
- Chattanooga's Forest Hills is final resting place for known, unknown
- Burritt College -- Pioneer of the Cumberlands
- Chattanooga's nicknames trace city's evolution
- The 25th annual meeting of the Tennessee Press Association
- Clemons Brothers Furniture Store
- The Short Life of the USS Chattanooga
- Ellen Jarnagin McCallie lived a truly remarkable life
- Dr. Jonathan Bachman was a revered city father
- Second guessing the Confederate failure on Missionary Ridge
- Nancy Kefauver, ambassador for the arts
- William Gibbs McAdoo kept his Southern roots
- Chattanooga's Secretary of the Treasury
- Howard Baker remembered as a statesman/photographer who snapped history
- Tivoli's last picture show
- The history of one of Chattanooga's oldest businesses
- Chattanooga's roller derby skaters
- Myths of Coca-Cola in Chattanooga
- Chattanooga's neighborhood grocery stores
- The tale of the Scottsboro Boys
- The people's history of Chattanooga
- Howard School is Chattanooga's reminder of Reconstruction
- Elevator operator, painter, mystery man: meet Rice Carothers
- Raulston Schoolfield made enemies amid his rise to power
- Website lets users peer into Chattanooga's past
- The flood of 1917
- Chattanooga's 'wickedest woman' buried at Forest Hills
- History of Cummings Highway
Meanwhile, a rousing parade kicked off Chattanooga's Labor Day festivities that year. Just past the 9:30 a.m. start time, citizens lining Market Street heard music and caught sight of the first marchers as they turned left from Ninth Street (now M.L. King) onto Market and headed north.
The grand marshal, the advance guard, the platoon of police and Sheriff F.S. Hyde and his deputies were showered with confetti from rooftops and second-story windows and cheers from the crowd. Right behind them marched a 25-man brass band, followed by throngs of wheelmen set to participate in the bicycle races later that day.
Additional marchers and bands followed as the parade reached the end of Market Street, turned around and marched back on the opposite side of Market. After the parade, everyone headed out to East Lake for a citywide picnic, and then over to the track for an afternoon of bicycle races. Riders had come from several surrounding cities to participate in the various races.
The first race was the One-Mile Novice. First prize: a mandolin.
Will Stone pulled from his satchel an oversized pistol he had imported from Turkey for the occasion. He raised it high. A shot rang out and the race began, the crowd roaring its approval. But the judges ruled the race must be run again because the best time was more than the 3-minute limit! Races that followed: Half-Mile Open, One-Mile Boys Race, One-Mile Ordinary, Five-Mile Handicap and more.
It should come as no surprise none of the riders were women. Even in progressive riding cities like New York, female bicycle racing was discouraged. The New York World published a list of 41 "don'ts" for female riders in 1895, one of them being, "Don't race. Leave that to the scorchers." (Translation: speeders!)
Back then, the independence the bicycle offered to men and women was frowned upon. But pioneers like Annie "Londonderry" Kopchovsky, a 23-year-old Latvian-born immigrant and mother of three, changed everything with a stunt that has been long forgotten but was celebrated in her day. On a wager staged by two Boston businessmen in 1894, Annie became the first woman to ride around the world on a bicycle - wearing bloomers and men's pants along the way.
Around that time, social reformer and women's rights activist Susan B. Anthony said: "Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood."
What would have happened in the summer of 1895 if a young woman had the audacity to ride a bicycle on the streets of Chattanooga? How about in bloomers?
Read "The Great Chattanooga Bicycle Race," a new historical fiction book available through Amazon.com, to find out!
Mike H. Mizrahi, a resident of Los Angeles, is the author of "The Great Chattanooga Bicycle Race." Visit his website at mikehmizrahi.com and follow him at Facebook@author mikemizrahi. For more, visit Chattahistoricalassoc.org.