History and the Meaning of Things

05 June, 2009

Fiona K in rational dress
Fiona Kinsey poses in rational dress with a vintage bicycle.
Image: Adrian Cox
Source: Adrian Cox

Museum Victoria’s Curator of Domestic and Community Life, Fiona Kinsey, doesn’t just like cycling; such is her passion for the topic that she spent six years researching it for her Masters in Australian Studies. Her thesis Portraits of Australian Women Cyclists in the 1890s was the basis of a seminar at Melbourne Museum in May, in which she described the challenges for female cyclists a century ago.

The rise of the Safety Bicycle in the late 19th century had an enormous social impact as individual mobility improved dramatically. Fiona’s presentation revealed that the implications for women were particularly significant and reflected their changing status in society. This change was an unwelcome one to many; female cyclists were disparaged in the press, often heckled and sometimes even assaulted for "outstepping the limits of womanliness" (Australian Home Journal, 1895).

Some women kept a low profile by riding slowly and gracefully in long skirts on specially-designed drop-frame bicycles. Others, however, were trailblazers – historic photographs record them taking part in races, long tours, and embracing a new physical strength and independence. These women wore "rational dress," a practical but scandalous costume of bloomers and coat, and preferred men’s bicycles for their reliability and speed. These are the women that captured Fiona’s imagination and their stories and photographs, scoured from the collections of the State Library, illustrate her Masters thesis.

Fiona's presentation was part of the History and Meaning of Things seminar series on history and material culture, organised by the History and Technology Department of Museum Victoria. Her research takes her to a conference in June at the University of Bristol entitled The Visual in Sport. The conference unites two academic disciplines that have traditionally overlooked one another: visual culture and the history of sport. Fiona will present a paper about how photographs record the history of Australian women's cycling in the 1890s.


The 2009 History & the Meaning of Things seminar series

The next seminar in the series will be presented by Museum Victoria’s Thomas Ramsay fellow, Dr Gareth Knapman. His presentation, The culture of exchange and the historical construction of Museum Victoria’s collection, will take place in the Discovery Centre at Melbourne Museum on Wednesday 10th June at 1 pm. Entry is free, but bookings are essential.

To RSVP or request additional information about the 2009 History and the Meaning of Things program, contact Dr Charlotte Smith at csmith@museum.vic.gov.au


Comments (1)

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ashuii 5 September, 2010 17:25
very senceible meaning
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