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Social Reform in Sports (one page) [TESTING ONLY]



Discipline(s):US History; Gender and Women’s Studies; Sports Studies

Course number and name: GWS 150B5 Sport, Sex, and Society

Background/context for lesson: This lesson is both an introduction to and an extension for our Unit on Social Reform in Sports. The lesson introduces students to the connections between sports and social reform(specifically rational dress and women’s suffrage/feminism), ideologies around women’s participation in early sport, as well as the importance of the material aspects of sports (cost, availability, etc).The unit extended past this historical investigation of Gilded Age/Progressive Era cycing into the present day and we ended the unit by looking at a variety of examples of “gear” and materiality of sports–including sports bras, gendered footwear, plus size gear and body image, and even media coverage of women’s sports.

Time needed: 1full 75 min class period and part of a second class plus essay writing time

Learning objectives: By engaging in this lesson, students will:

  1. Critically read primary sources (especially images)
  2. Make connections between sports and social reform movements –specifically dress reform and feminism
  3. Consider the role materials (gear) play in the liberation and/or oppression of bodies at play


Before class preparation/set up

The first, partial class period should be a warm-up introduction.  A short lecture on the gendered culture of Gilded Age America can help students situate the bicycling story in time and context.  Also have students ready to read aloud together this source:

As homework before the first full class, have ALL students access and read/look at the following:

  • Photo of Young Female Rider:
  • Small Article in 1896 newspaper (you will have to really search on the first page to find it):
  • This article about bicycle games:,0.807,0.475,0.226,0
  • An interview by journalist Nellie Bly of Susan B Anthony on her opinion of cycling and bloomers.

Have students choose ONE of the following and be prepared to report a summary of the sources as well as thoughts connecting the source of their choice to the sources we all accessed:

  • “Due to the Wheel: Women Being Greatly Benefited by the Bicycle,”The Kootenai Herald, Oct. 25, 1901 ( (reprinted from theNew York Herald)
  • “Women on Wheels,”The Evening Dispatch, July 21, 1894 ( (reprinted from theNew York Sun).
  • Wheeling Sunday Register, May 24, 1896 (
  • “Some New and Becoming Bicycle Costumes That are Popular,”The San Francisco Call(
  • “Bloomers in England,”The Saint Paul Globe, April 30, 1890 (

Tools Needed

Students will need computer devices and access to the Internet to access sources for the first introductory discussion and for their homework.

Instructors will need (ideally) projector and Internet access.


Essential Questions to Guide the Lesson should be presented to students first:

  1. What messages seem to be being conveyed by these sources?
  2. What were the fears of early bike riding by the social critics?
  3. What role did gear play in these discussions?
  4. Where do we see gender ideologies surfacing in the cultural discussion about women riding bikes?
  5. What are the obvious linkages between social reform and biking? What might be less obvious connections? 

Day 1: Introduction to the Topic and Lesson

  • Offer the Essential Questions to students.
  • Provide a brief lecture to “set the scene” of gender in the late 19th/early 20th centuries.  Topics can and should include: first wave feminism and the early suffrage movement; dress expectations esp. the hegemony of the corset; hard essentialist thinking in accepted science at the time of “women’s nature”; backdrop of other social reform movements (abolition; temperance etc); public/private sphere ideologies of the middle and upper classes
  • Pull up the image shown at the top of this lesson and lead students in a discussion of the fears that seem to be prevalent with regard to women entering the public sphere
  • Provide students with link to the song (linked above) and go around and read the stanzas aloud. Stop after each stanza and summarize what it’s saying
  • Engage in discussion using essential questions about the song and image as entry into analysis about bicycling, social reform, and sex/gender and sport in the late 19th/early 20th centuries.
  • Cool down assessment: Write two take aways you learned today about the cultural fears surrounding women’s increased public mobility.

Day 2: Full class period Source Analysis and Thesis Writing

  • Put students into triads (or whatever grouping makes sense) and have them use the ACCLIMATE guide (see attached) to analyze ONE source (assign each group a source that they had already read for homework) 
  • Have groups report back their essential findings in large group
  • Next have the same groups engage in comparative discussion about the sources from the previous class and the sources read for class today. Process and Directions:
  • Look at each source we read collectively and the ones you read individually then discuss the following:
    • Does there seem to be any alternative thinking with regard to women cycling (compared with what we analyzed last class)?
    • What was your experience in reading these sources? What struck you about “researching” in these archives? 
  • Lastly, have them warm up for their essay assignment by writing a thesis individually based on the following directions and then pair/share the thesis and do a bit of revision/feedback.  The pair share can be done at the beginning of the next class if need be.

    Directions: Using all the sources we have researched about the bicycle, collaboratively write a thesis for an article you want to submit to a popular magazine that is doing a special issue on feminism and sport.The question the magazine would like for you to address is: How were bicycling and feminist social reform linked in the late 1800s and early 1900s?

Day 3: If necessary-Pair/Share Revisions of Theses 

  • Have students pair up and share the theses they wrote last class. Have them critique one another by explaining 1 strength of the thesis and 1 area for improvement (if any is needed). 
  • Cool Down: Write a paragraph explaining your experience using the Library of Congress site and the experience of using the primary sources.  Guiding Question:What was your experience in using the LOC?What was easy and interesting?What was hard and time consuming? What struck you about researching with these primary sources?


Formative assessments will be done at the end of each day but also throughout each discussion. The summative and final assessment is the Assessment Essay Assignment.

Using the above essential question, students will write an article for a popular magazine on the topic of sports, gear, and social reform. The article will be 3-4 pages and will include both a synthesis of social reform (rational dress and women’s suffrage) and biking in history and apply either the feminist ideas of women’s empowerment OR the fears from the conservative sources to a piece of contemporary gear or a contemporary social reform movement of their choosing.

Additional Information & Resources

Additional Information

This lesson plan was created for college-aged students in a 100-level General Education course. There is a lot to do in this lesson so it may take a less experienced discussion-based educator longer than 1.5 -2 75 min class periods. Similarly the younger the learners the more time this would take, but if adapted to a higher level course (or a major-specific course) it might take less time.