Feminine Symmetry and Poise: Marguerite Lindley’s Advice to Wheelwomen

I have at long last tracked down a first-hand account of the specific speech given by Miss E. Marguerite Lindley (see my Coda to Loosing my mind) that is quoted so often, in The Omaha Daily Bee from 15th March, 1896.


In her recent lecture on “The Influence of the Wheel,” before an audience of Brooklyn women, Miss E. Marguerite Lindley said some things that may interest wheelwomen in general as well as the Brooklynites.

Among other remarks, Miss Lindley dared to assert that the bicycle was not the universal cure for all the ills that have hitherto afflicted flesh. She even hinted that without some counteracting influence the bicycle would produce a race very unhealthy and very nearly deformed.

To aid in proving these lugubrious theories she had a skeleton trunk, mounted a la scorcher, upon a wheel, which showed the audience the effect of bicycle postures upon the internal organs. The internal organs in this case were made of raw cotton and cambric coverings, but they were quite convincing.

To counteract the effect of these skeleton demonstrations and to show women that they might ride, and yet become neither maimed nor halt, Miss Lindley had two assistant demonstrators, who practiced “corrective exercises.”

After paying her tribute briefly to the possibilities of the bicycle as a means of outdoor exercise and freedom to women, Miss Lindley launched forth her invective against it as it actually is—a spoiler of feminine symmetry and poise, a disturber of internal organs and an irritant of external tissues. Then it was that the expressions of the audience became gloomy and the more easily influenced among them decided to sell their wheels at any sacrifice.

“In bicycling,” said the lecturer, “the energies are localized. The back, arms, shoulder blades and even abdominal muscles are not used. When wheeling at a rapid pace or on an upgrade the trunk is thrown forward but it is not exercised. Therefore, unless supplementary exercise is given, the unused parts lose symmetry and flexibility.”

Here the skeleton gave a depressing imitation of the figure which a bicyclist would eventually acquire without the supplemental exercises, and the women in the audience shuddered.

Then, having shown by means of the skeleton, all the dangers and horrors of bicycling, she showed by means of the two attractive demonstrators how these evils could be overcome. The bicyclist who takes these exercises, she said, would escape the lowered chest, the atrophied shoulder blades and all other disagreeable results of wheeling, even, perhaps, the “bicycleface.”

These supplementary exercises are not designed to bo taken in intervals during a bicycling excursion, but at home. They are taken standing in proper position, with chest and abdomen in line, or lying on the back or chest. When standing the arms are raised shoulder high and extended, thereby raising the chest. The trunk is twisted, an exercise which brings into play many of the unused muscles.

The most valuable of the corrective exercises for bicyclists, Miss Lindley said, is taken lying on the stomach, with the feet fixed firmly and the hands on the hips. From this position the head and shoulders are raised by means of the muscles of the back. Another valuable exercise is taken lying on the back and extending the leg up and out from the hip. Both of these movements give exercise to the muscles which bicycling neglects.

The knickerbocker girl received a rebuke when the lecturer stated that bicycling afforded no excuse for mannish attire. A union undergarment, a corset waist, a divided underskirt and a properly made dress she declared to be an eminently sensible and entirely satisfactory garb for wheelwomen.

Narrow bicycle saddles Miss Lindley declared to be the cause of half the evils resulting from wheeling. She advocates the use of a saddle adapted to the needs of the person who sat on it—a made-to-order saddle, as she insisted that the width of the made-to-order saddle should be at least approximately as great as that of a properly made chair.

About Frank

A Sci-Fi & Fantasy author and lyrical poet with a mild obsession for vampires, succubi, goddesses and Supergirl.
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4 Responses to Feminine Symmetry and Poise: Marguerite Lindley’s Advice to Wheelwomen

  1. BroadBlogs says:

    “Wheelwomen.” That’s an interesting term. I wonder if they also had “wheelmen”?

    It sounds like this woman was quite antifeminist, Warning about phantom health problems that would come from both exercise and autonomy. And keep yourself all hemmed in with the corset for good measure.

    Do you know anything more about her background? Did she regularly write for the paper? And how did she position herself as an expert on the topic? Do you know anything about this? Just curious.

    • Frank says:

      Yes, ‘wheelmen’ was the male equivalent, and ‘wheelers’ a common term for cyclists.

      I don’t quite understand her reference here to a corset. In her book she’s very opposed to the corset: “The corset causes confusion and discord in the grandest of all creations—the human body. … tight waist clothing is a great source of inconvenience … Girls break down and women wear out under the rule of the corset. So closely are some women wedded to their corsets that on recovering from illness they boast, not that they are on their feet again, but that they are once more in their corsets.”

    • Frank says:

      There’s some information about her life here:
      Camera Clubs and some Amateur Activity in Georgia After 1880, Part 2:
      Lindley, originally from Union, Maine, came to Atlanta in 1888. In about 1892 she left Atlanta, where she apparently was not happy, and moved to New York City to carry on her work. She invented her Lindley Home Massage machine (we cannot help but wonder about this thing, right?), wrote the book “Health in the Home,” and taught classes and Chautauqua in various New England spots.

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