Women bicyclists, Bicycle racing
In March 1889, an Omaha resident and novice female bicycle racer named Lillie Williams hurtled into the sporting spotlight. Over a period of six nights, before an overflow crowd averaging five thousand enthusiastic fans a night, Williams outrode the nation’s top “cycliennes” in a hotly contested race in the city’s newly constructed Coliseum. By the end, she had pedaled 259.4 miles and broken the women’s 18-hour cycling record. Although Williams would eventually take up and excel at a number of other sports—including motorcycling, swimming, and fencing, in which she set records and won championships—unrivaled in her memory was the race in Omaha that launched her professional career. As a woman athlete in the public eye, Williams encountered challenges and risks, sexism and spectacle. She also experienced and enjoyed new freedoms and a love of competition and showmanship. An exploration of her career illuminates the conditions that converged to make women’s competitive cycling a popular, if brief, sensation in the late nineteenth century.
Lindell, Lisa, "The Nebraska Cyclone: Lillie Williams and the Embrace of Sport and Spectacle" (2019). Hilton M. Briggs Library Faculty Publications. 53.