“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling,” said Susan B. Anthony. “I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”
You might not think of bikes as instruments of social change, but according to the National Women’s History Museum, bicycles had a “revolutionary impact” on the women’s movement in the early 1900s, giving freedom to women who formerly had to rely on men for transportation. Bicycling even transformed the way women dressed, giving rise to easy-to-move-in “bloomers” (divided skirts) that replaced the restrictive corsets and bustles of the 1800s.
Suffragist leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton proclaimed, “The bicycle will inspire women with more courage, self-respect, self-reliance.” Who knew two wheels could make such an impact?
In honor of Women's History Month in March, pedal to some of the highlights of the women's movement on these bike trails near America’s top historic sites celebrating female achievements.
1. San Diego River Bikeway, San Diego, California
Set your sights on the 20-mile river path running from Mission Valley to Ocean Beach. Closed to auto traffic, it’s one of the safest bike trails in San Diego. It’s suitable for riders of all levels, and you can pedal for as long or as short as you’d like.
It’s about a 15-minute ride from the trail’s midpoint to the Women's Museum of California. Established in 1983, the museum offers exhibits that bring untold stories of extraordinary women to light. Check out the Marching Towards Empowerment exhibit that follows the journey to enfranchisement from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. The Power of the Ballot Box exhibit celebrates the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote.
2. Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway, Seneca Falls, New York
Hop on your bike at the National Women’s Hall of Fame and follow the 19-mile Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway to Cayuga Lake, the route a group of women’s rights activists pedaled to honor the 19th amendment a few years back. If 19 miles is too long a ride, you can take a quick loop around the 6.9-acre Women’s Rights National Historical Park or just focus on the Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway’s 8.5-mile Black Diamond Trail. The Black Diamond Trail can be combined with the 5.5-mile Cayuga Waterfront Trail if you’d like to ride from Ithaca, New York, to Taughannock Falls State Park.
Seneca Falls, New York, was the location of the first women’s rights convention and was instrumental in the movement that led to women’s suffrage in 1920. Today, you can visit the National Women’s Hall of Fame, which honors bold women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who fought for women’s equality; Wesleyan Chapel, the site of the convention; and the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, which connects to New York State’s Women’s Heritage Trail, a route that links a string of other important sites around the state, including the 32-acre Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn, New York.
3. Potomac Heritage Trail, Washington, D.C.
The 10-mile Potomac Heritage Trail winds past many historic sites in the nation’s capital, including numerous museums covering women’s history. The nearly flat city route offers plenty of paved, car-free space along the Potomac River, making it easy for anyone to pedal a section of this trail.
The capital is the perfect place to learn about women’s contributions to the country. The National Archives houses letters, photographs, and films highlighting women’s achievements. You can learn even more at the Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, all of which commemorate and celebrate the vital role women have played in American history.
4. Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, Maryland
Harriet Tubman led her passengers on the Underground Railroad through Maryland and across the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, now connected in a historical trail known as the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway. The byway connects a number of railroad sites in Dorchester and Caroline Counties, and contains both flat, quiet roads for leisurely pedaling as well as off-road areas for more adventurous mountain bikers.
Maryland is where Harriet Tubman was born, and it’s also home to the houses, farms, and churches where she stopped while bravely bringing family members and friends to freedom -- remarkably never losing a single passenger. Be sure to visit the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cambridge, Maryland, where docents share emotional stories about Tubman’s life and work.
5. Trinity Trails, Fort Worth, Texas
Although Fort Worth is usually associated with rodeos and horses, there are plenty of places to pedal around the city. To access the historical treasures of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, bike the Trinity Trails, 40 miles of easy paved trails that run through central Fort Worth to other smaller trails throughout the city. One popular trailhead runs through the verdant Fort Worth Botanic Garden, just around the corner from the National Cowgirl Museum.
The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame is the only museum in the country -- and in the world, for that matter -- that’s dedicated to the women of the American West. But cowgirls and ranchers aren’t the only ones highlighted here (although the museum does a great job honoring those daring women). Artists, writers, and musicians -- everyone from Laura Ingalls Wilder to Georgia O’Keefe to Patsy Cline -- are celebrated for “exemplifying the spirit of the West.”