Let me tell you about my hero.
Kittie Knox is the reason that bicycling is more than just another leisure sport for the wealthy. As a Black teenager, she created the world that she wanted to see from the seat of her bike. Today, you can see the results of Kittie’s success in the hundreds of cities around the globe where a bicycle is used to have a happier commute, as a social galvanizer among disparate individuals, as a political leveraging tool, or for tall bike jousting.
Much has been written of the bicycle as the great liberator of wealthy women from restrictive clothing. But as you will see here, it was working class women like Kittie who changed the paradigm and made the bicycle into an actual liberator of women. While the upper classes clung to long, awkward skirts and tried to prevent women from embracing social bicycling at all, Kittie was out there showing them how it was done; what the future would hold.
Ideas of feminism have evolved in tremendous ways over the past 130 years since Kittie’s day and Knox’s version essentially won history — not for accepting the norms of her time but for rejecting them in favor of her own view of the world. Naturally, this made for an unpleasant and bumpy journey as she offended each and every stalwart. But that’s what is involved in political change — not everyone is going to like it.
Kittie Knox was born in 1874 near the African American community in Cambridgeport, a suburb of Boston. Her mother was white, from rural Maine, while her father was Black, relocated from Philadelphia to become a tailor and cleaner. Her father was a lifelong activist. In 1850,, as the country braced for its first race war, he petitioned Massachusetts for the right of Black men to join the state militia.
Kittie’s neighborhood was a cultural melting pot of poor Blacks, Irish workers, recent immigrants, poor whites, and absentee landlords. Next door to her childhood home, a Black barber shared a property with a Russian-Jewish cobbler, adjacent to an Irish bar and liquor store. Throughout the next decade, southern Italian and eastern European Jewish people began to displace the formerly affluent residents of Boston’s South End, creating greater cultural acceptance for disenfranchised people through the city.