By: Jordan Siden, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2017, History, Bloomington
After spending the first few months of my Mini 500 project deep in primary sources, at the start of the fall semester I decided to work toward placing my story in its larger context. This included reading about women’s experiences in American colleges since the 1950s, a little about women’s liberation in the 1970s, and about the impact, the invention of the bicycle has had on women’s changing social roles.
Bicycles first became popular in the late 1800s, they granted women new freedom and mobility. The bicycle craze of the late 19th century was a major factor leading to the “New Woman,” a phrase used at the time to describe women’s gains in independence and education. In fact, as researcher Clare Simpson wrote in the article “Capitalizing on Curiosity,” a phenomenon of organized and competitive racing featuring women riders swept across the United States and Europe in the late 1800s.
However, the history of races is short-lived because society pushed back against these gains, with many banning women’s bicycle races in the early 20th century.
The bicycle races held at Indiana University reflected this negative attitude on female riding competitions. By the 1950s, while IU men rode bikes for trophies and a year’s worth of prestige, women participated in their own race. Unlike the men, however, the women rode tricycles.
To understand why the women’s race was so different from the men’s race, I researched the experiences of American college women throughout the second half of the 20th century. According to In the Company of Educated Women by historian Barbara Miller Solomon, women were suddenly much needed both in the professional world and in American college when World War II began.
Though women’s education focused on academic gain during the war, this focused shifted when G.I.’s came home and started to flood universities themselves. According to the article “Education for Domesticity: Women in the Indiana University Halls of Residence” by IU graduate student Julia Joshel, for “co-eds,” colleges and universities, including IU, stressed poise, domestic skills, and marital eligibility above the pursuit of an advanced education or a meaningful future in the professional world.
The Mini 500 came about in an era.
The IU Moving Image Archive has agreed to digitize the IU Archive’s collection of Little 500 film.
Viewing this reel-to-reel film over the summer was one of the most amazing experiences of my internship so far. Each one of these films produced by the IUSF contain footage of the Mini 500, and I intend to edit short films of this footage for my final project: an online presentation detailing the history of the Mini 500.
If everything goes according to plan, the webpage will be hosted as part of 200.iu.edu and feature the story of the Mini 500 written in three chapters, supplemented with short video features and photo galleries.
For part one of this blog, please visit: https://blogs.iu.edu/bicentennialblogs/2016/11/14/a-brief-history-of-ius-mini-500/
Barbara Miller Simpson, “The Promises of Liberal Education—Forgotten and Fulfilled” in In The Company Of Educated Women, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 186-206.
Clare S. Simpson, “Capitalising on Curiosity: Women’s Professional Cycle Racing in the Late-Nineteenth Century,” in Cycling and Society, ed. Dave Horton, Paul Rosen & Peter Cox, (Ashgate Publishing, 2007), 47-66.
Julia Joshel, “Education for Domesticity: Women in the Indiana University Halls of Residence, 1945-1960,” in Journal of the Indiana University Student Personnel Association, 2015, 9-18.