PIONEERS: Learn about the history of the beginnings of women’s cycling

We go back to the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.

Tillie Anderson


At the age of 18 she bought her first bicycle, thanks to her savings from her work as a seamstress. In 1895 she took part in her first bicycle race: the Elgin-Aurora Century Course.

Anderson completed the course in 6 hours 59′ 30”, breaking the current record for the event.  Breaking records would become part of his career. Between 1895 and 1902, Tillie Anderson participated in 130 races (or so it is reported) and won all but 7 of them.

Tillie’s career came to an end in 1902 because women were banned from racing due to the dangers of competition because of the many accidents.

Katherine Towle Knox

She was born in 1874, near the African-American community of Cambridgeport. Kittie managed to buy a bicycle at the age of 19 and joined the Riverside Cycle Club, the African-American bicyclists’ group in Boston.

In 1894 Knox became a member of the League of American Wheelmen (LAW). The LAW had already been making it difficult to accept black members, so much so that in the same year they voted overwhelmingly to exclude him.

Knox had become a member before the ban was voted on and passed, so the ban did not affect her… in theory. However, it is said that at the LAW’s national convention in 1895, a credential certifying her as a member of the league was rejected….

Kittie Knox had rolled up to the convention site, along with her fellow club members, in defiance of the ban on dark-skinned members. Despite the rejection, Kittie Knox’s defiant attitude and attire did not go unnoticed by the press.

Kittie continued to take part in some Century events (the 100-mile races mentioned above). In other events, however, her presence was questioned. Despite her and others’ struggles, the LAW’s racial veto continued… until 1999!

Hélène Dutrieu

He was born in Tournai (Belgium) in 1877. At the age of 14, he was already attending the track in his hometown. At the age of 18, he won a tandem competition with his brother at the Ostend velodrome. His rise in track competitions was meteoric.

In 1896 she won both the Grand Prix d’Europe and the Championnat du monde pour dames. His fame reached continental level. Dutrieu travelled to London, where in 1897 she won the Twelve Days Lady Cyclists International Race.

In the same year he retained his “world title” in Ostend.

Due to his success on the bike, King Leopold II awards him the Cross of St André… At the age of 26, she decided to start doing acrobatic exhibitions at the Olympia theatre in Paris, first on a bicycle and then on a motorbike.

The link with speed soon led her to another means of transport: the aeroplane. At the age of 31, she became the first woman in Belgium to obtain a pilot’s licence. Dutrieu would become an icon of both cycling and aviation.