And why is that? What about the 1890s bicycling craze across America? In her late teens, Equi was working in the textile mills of New Bedford, making just 90 cents a day for a 12-14 hour shift. She was supporting herself and her family, leaving little income for big ticket purchases. Then she was rescued by her girlfriend, Bessie Holcomb, who invited her to homestead with her in the Far West. In 1892 they were settled on several acres, making their home in a 12’ by 30’ cabin two miles outside The Dalles, Oregon along the Columbia River. But roads were clogged with dust and ruts in the summer and were muddy slogs in the winter. The bike fad may not have claimed many enthusiasts in the post-frontier town.
What about San Francisco then, where Equi and Holcomb moved in 1897? Surely they tried bicycling then, especially along the path through the center of Panhandle Park and into Golden Gate Park. My hunch is they did indeed try out the new two-wheelers for a weekend spin. But no pics and no journal entries of the two on bikes.
Perhaps Equi, an advocate for women’s voting rights, took to heart the wisdom of Susan B. Anthony who remarked in 1896 that bicycling had accomplished more “to emancipate women than anything else in the world.“ Equi worked for woman suffrage in 1906 and 1912 in Oregon, and some of her travels, she perhaps tried “wheels.”
I’ve documented Marie Equi travelling by train several times, by steamer from Portland to San Francisco, by bus and streetcar, by personal automobile, and by foot. Someday a now-hidden or unknown archive will yield discoveries, including perhaps the elusive photograph of Marie Equi riding a bike.
Book readers take note: I did slip in a reference to bicycling in Chapter Three, “The Audacity to Succeed,” about Equi and Holcomb arriving in San Francisco. Here’s an edited excerpt from page 40:
“San Francisco was a great splurge of a city at the end of the nineteenth century, modern and cosmopolitan with a palpable excitement in the air. …(at the foot of Market Street) Cable cars ground to a stop at the Ferry Building ready to collect and disperse passengers down the street or into the neighborhoods. Horse-drawn wagons and handcarts rumbled over the cobblestones, and bicyclists and pedestrians dodged the jumble of traffic best they could.”