New York & Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1895. First edition. Original green publisher's cloth binding with silver and gilt to spine and front board. Extremely neat contemporary ownership signature of Hepsie A. Adams to front endpaper. Internally clean, complete, and tight. The slightest wear to extremities, mostly at the crown of spine. Released in the same year through the Woman's Temperance Publication Association, scholars note no priority between the two, which appear to have been bound from the same sheets with only the title page distinguishing them. Revell Company had a reputation for partnering with women's clubs and activist groups to ensure wider distribution of political works. This autobiographical work by leading American women's activist Frances Willard has appeared only twice at auction, with the most recent over 30 years ago in 1987.
"Frances Willard, leader of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), was a complex and energetic figure in American feminism and social reform...Although Willard proclaimed the virtues of traditional domesticity for women, she was not bound by those conventional ideas in her own life" (GMU). After an unhappy engagement early in her life, Willard refused to marry any man, instead living long term with her partner Anna Gordon and working for women's rights. Her brief autobiographical narrative A Wheel Within a Wheel focuses on Willard's discovery of the bicycle in her late fifties, and the sense of freedom she gained from it. Since its invention, the bicycle had been a controversial mode of transportation for women, both because it required riding astride and because it provided a new, unchaperoned form of mobility. Among suffragists the bicycle and later the car became symbols of liberation. Here, Willard describes her experience and how "she viewed the 'conquest' of the bicycle as similar to the mastery that woman needed to achieve over the 'wider world'" (History Matters). The liberation of the bicycle, for Willard, is incredibly personal as well as symbolic. "Living in the country, far from the artificial restraints and conventions by which most girls are hedged from the activities that would develop a good physique...I ran wild until my sixteenth birthday, when the hampering long skirts were brought, with their accompanying corset and high heels...[it] was the first heartbreak of a young human colt taken from its pleasant pasture," she writes. And she explains that her recapturing of freedom through bicycling was "an act of grace if not of actual religion," which "help women to a wider world." Containing practical information as well, on a proper bicycling costume, methods of learning, and health benefits of riding, A Wheel Within a Wheel packs an intense amount of information and joie de vivre into a small tome. Fine (Item #3960)