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Claiming the Bicycle

Claiming the Bicycle

Women, Rhetoric, and Technology in Nineteenth-Century America

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Sarah Hallenbeck


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
240 pages, 6 x 9, 16 illustrations

Studies in Rhetorics and Feminisms


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About the Book

Although the impact of the bicycle craze of the late nineteenth century on women’s lives has been well documented, rarely have writers considered the role of women’s rhetorical agency in the transformation of bicycle culture and the bicycle itself. In Claiming the Bicycle, Sarah Hallenbeck argues that through their collective rhetorical activities, women who were widely dispersed in space, genre, and intention negotiated what were considered socially acceptable uses of the bicycle, destabilizing cultural assumptions about femininity and gender differences.
Hallenbeck describes the masculine culture of the “Ordinary” bicycle of the 1880s and the ways women helped bring about changes in this culture; asserts that women contributed to bicycle design, helping to produce the more gender-neutral “Safety” bicycle in response to discourse about their needs; and analyzes women writers’ uses of the new venue of popular magazines to shape a “bicycle girl” ethos that prompted new identities for women. The author considers not only how technical documents written by women bicyclists encouraged new riders to understand their activity as transforming gender definitions but also how women used bicycling as a rhetorical resource to influence medical discourse about their bodies.
Making a significant contribution to studies of feminist rhetorical historiography, rhetorical agency, and technical communication, Claiming the Bicycle asserts the utility of a distributed model of rhetorical agency and accounts for the efforts of widely dispersed actors to harness technology in promoting social change. 


Sarah Hallenbeck is an assistant professor of English at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her essays on feminist rhetorical historiography and technical communication have been published in the journals Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Technical Communication Quarterly, Rhetoric Review, and Advances in the History of Rhetoric and in the edited collection Women and Rhetoric between the Wars


“Sarah Hallenbeck’s Claiming the Bicycle: Women, Rhetoric, and Technology in Nineteenth-Century America is a fresh and masterful piece of scholarship that will make significant interventions to the fields of feminist rhetorical studies and histories of technical communication in particular as well as rhetorical historiography writ large. Claiming the Bicycle is impressive in regard to the depth and detail of the examples Hallenbeck draws from to compose her arguments, as she astutely analyzes literary narratives, instructional manuals, medical texts, and much more. Finally, the unique character of the conversation propelling the bicycling craze Hallenbeck studies is just fabulous. Who wouldn’t want to learn about Frances Willard as a bicyclist, bicycle courtship narratives, and the dangers of ‘bicycle face’? Claiming the Bicycle is not just an intellectually rigorous and provocative work but also a joy to read.”—Jessica Enoch, associate professor and director of academic writing at the University of Maryland

"Sarah Hallenbeck offers an engaging peek into the past by situating the bicycle within historical feminist rhetoric. Her text examines the evolution of the bicycle from the masculine and risky Ordinary to the feminine and more accessible Tricycle to the modern and popular Safety. As more women began to ride the Safety, Hallenbeck discovers, they answered the call for feminine accommodations to the machine. As women embraced this new technology, they discovered a need to invent bicycle accessories and write patents for those new inventions. The growing popularity of bicycles created a trend for whimsical stories of the “Bicycle Girl” along with a space for new authority and rhetorical agency among women riders and writers. Hallenbeck effectively argues that nineteenth-century women’s use of the bicycle creates an intersection of rhetoric, gender, and technology as women participated in both the use of the new technology and the technical communication that surrounded the bicycle. "—Melissa Nivens, Composition Forum