Hats and Bicycles

By February 17, 2008

This one goes out to Ardis ūüėČ

And can I also say I’m glad these photos are intriguing people because they really are a hugely wonderful yet hugely untapped resource¬†that only recently has become accessible (aka, not fragile glass plates in large cardboard boxes with no index).

Selection from my paper:

The fluctuating permissibility of gender boundaries lent itself to a rising generation of younger, more independent women. While the older trail-blazing settlers blurred the line of femininity between strong, educated homemakers and independent, hard-working homesteaders, the props of the younger generation of central Utah’s women emphasized modern symbols of the emerging “new woman” of¬†the twentieth century, so apparent in the fashionable, first photograph of Anna Thompson.The increasing appearance of stylish boater and messenger hats offers one noticeable trend. In the Sargent portrait of Mrs. Stokes, featured in the introduction, the subject holds in her right hand this early symbol of “new womanhood,” the jaunty (and previously¬†male-only) straw boater hat. Though Anna Thompson,¬†her mirror image, does not replicate her on that point, many of Andersen’s other young women proudly placed their masculine caps in their personal portraits. Almira Curtis’s photograph actually features her boater hat on top of a pile of books, uniting two particularly powerful props¬†of progressive womanhood.
Almira Curtis
Messenger hats,¬†though not as popular in the east, also represented this blurring of fashion and gender lines. Young women repeatedly appear in Andersen’s portraits wearing variations of the urban newsboy cap. Mr. and Mrs. Collard’s wedding photograph is particularly astonishing. In perhaps one¬†of the most traditionally gendered events of her life, Mrs. Collard refuses a typically feathered and feminine hat in preference for her fashionably modern/masculine messenger cap.[2]
Mrs. Collard
The friendly double portrait of the Misses Robb and McIntyre pushes even more forcefully towards the iconic ideal of liberalized “new womanhood.”
Miss Robb stands to¬†the left, wearing her messenger cap, while Miss McIntyre leans against the most liberal prop yet seen in Andersen’s portrait; a new bicycle, the classic symbol for the modern woman. The image replicates the iconic, art deco “Wellesley College” cover of the popular¬†Scribner’s Monthly magazine which used the image of boater hat wearing women riding bicycles as a symbol of gender equality.
It seems almost impossible that the frontier women of frontier Utah could have paralleled the trend-setting Wellesley, yet they still stare out from their glassy negatives and smile at our head-scratching.
Miss Robb and McIntyre
The bicycle, the ultimate symbol of modernity and liberal womanhood, repeats itself throughout Andersen’s later coal county portraits. Although the poorest of central Utah families could never afford the contraption, some families became more comfortable as the settlements steadily grew along the Denver and Rio¬†Grande Railroads. By the 1900s, portraits of women and their bicycles proliferated in Andersen’s Springville archive. Mrs. D P Felt smiles for a shot on an outing with her infant son cradled on the handlebars.[5] Retta Robertson, puts her new mode of transportation directly in front as the only prop featured against an ambiguous, interior backdrop.[6]

Boater hats and bicycles, symbols of women’s liberation in the east, were enthusiastically adopted by young women of central Utah who grew up in an atmosphere of education, individuality, marital egalitarianism, and the blurring gender roles of Utah’s coal county lifestyle.

[1] GEA Collection, #9017 “Almira Curtis.”[2] GEA Collection, #12991, “A. E. Collard, Huntington, Utah.”[3] GEA, #4636, “Miss Robb and McIntyre, Price, Utah.”[4] The most iconic representation of the Wellesley “New Woman,” complete with bicycles and boater hats, can be found on the cover of Scribner’s Monthly, May 1898. Charles Allan Gilbert, “Wellesley College,”¬†Scribner’s Monthly (May 1898). Color lithograph, 22 ¬Ĺ x 13 ¬ĺ inches. Columbia University, New York; Engel Collection, Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. Image reprinted in Patricia Hills, Turn-of-the-Century America: Paintings, Graphics, Photographs 1890-1910. (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1977), 66.[5] GEA Collection, #7781, “Mrs. D. P. Felt.”[6] GEA Collection, #16623, “Retta Robertson.”

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. excellent.

    Comment by smb — February 17, 2008 @ 9:27 am

  2. More great stuff. Thanks Heidi. I quite like those messenger caps. Can you recommend any good reading on women’s liberation in the East being symbolized by boater hats and bicycles? I’m not very familiar with the era, but fascinated by it.

    Comment by Christopher — February 17, 2008 @ 10:11 am

  3. Wonderful, Heidi.
    This post is especially meaningful to me as I’ve been plunged back into a society where women are totally dependent upon men for transportation. It really does make a difference in quality of life. Marie Ward wrote in her book, “Bicycling for Ladies” (1896), “Riding the wheel, our powers are revealed to us.”
    (Check out the hat, and the knickers!)

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — February 17, 2008 @ 10:47 am

  4. Indeed, thank you Heidi.

    Comment by David G. — February 17, 2008 @ 8:17 pm

  5. That just can’t be a good way to ride with a kid. (quiver)

    Comment by Clark — February 17, 2008 @ 10:11 pm


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