In honor of Black History Month, today Speedy Pete’s is featuring the history of Kittie Knox. Unless you’re a student of Transportation History, you may never have heard of her, but her contribution to Cycling in general – and for women and BIPOC particularly – deserves to be celebrated!
Katherine T. “Kittie” Knox was born in the mid-1870’s in an African-American suburb of Boston. She was born into a multi-racial family: her mother, a rural White mill-woman, and her father, a Free Black tailor and lifelong activist.
“In 1890, when the ‘bicycle boom’ hit full steam, many cycling clubs rapidly sprung up all over Boston, where cycling was most popular. These cycling clubs would travel to nearby towns for riding competitions, social fun, politicking, and advocacy. Each club’s membership was adorned with a signature hat and they had mascots and floats, like parades for modern sports teams.”
Kittie joined the Riverside Cycle Club and quickly became known for her graceful, but skilled, riding, finishing in the Top 20% of every race she entered – besting most male riders. She even hand-sewed her own riding outfits with loose pants, instead of the long skirts still fashionable for women of the time. Kittie joined the League of American Wheelmen (LAW), but was ousted in 1894 when the League constitution was amended to read that “none but white persons can become members of the League.”
“Like bicycling, Kittie disappeared from the press after that, and then from the world. She died of kidney failure from chronic nephritis in 1906 and was buried in an unmarked grave (until 2013). To the press she was a cycling superstar. Kittie’s importance to the history of bicycling was unearthed when Lorenz J. Finison began to research his book Boston’s Cycling Craze, 1880-1900. Finison read articles and reviewed old newspaper reports, wondering why he hadn’t learned about Kittie Knox previously.”
For a deeper look into her phenomenal influence and long-reaching legacy, please read this fantastic article by Joe Biel (where the above quotes are taken from): “How Kittie Knox Changed Bicycling Forever”