Saturday, March 21, 2020

Sepia Saturday: Bikes, Boats, and Freedom

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt captures a moment many of us have experienced – the simple pleasure of pedaling away on a bicycle to some place new with wind in our hair. Some would say there is no better place to bike than on a boardwalk at the beach.

In 1944, my grandaunt Lillie Killeen joined some friends for a day at Virginia Beach. Biking the boardwalk was on their agenda.
Friends of Lillie Killeen June 1944
Love the bathing suit and sandals!
Lillie Killeen June 1944 Virginia Beach
Lillie Killeen and beau 1944

Lillie Killeen and friends June 1944 Virginia Beach
I wonder why Lillie's boyfriend showed up in a tie.
I wish I knew the names of her friends. The woman was probably a coworker, a nurse for Dr. Vernon Brooks. Lillie was his bookkeeper.
At the office of Dr. Brooks
From top to bottom:
Unknown, Lillie, Unknown.
The woman on the bottom step looks
like the woman at the beach.
The man NOT dressed for the beach was Lillie’s long-time boyfriend. She eventually broke it off with him because, according to her, he drank too much. Lillie never married.

It seems fitting that Lillie is pictured here with the bicycle which years earlier had become a symbol for women’s independence. Think about it. For years women depended on men for transportation, but a bicycle gave women freedom. A bicycle did not require a chaperone.

Fifty years before this photo was taken, the bicycle changed women’s lives. Bicycling and the women’s movement became intertwined. Many suffragettes pedaled their way from town to town gathering support for women’s rights and eventually the right to vote. Susan B. Anthony once said that bicycling had “done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton noted that “the bicycle will inspire women with more courage, self-respect, self-reliance.”

In a time when women were expected to marry and raise a passel of children, Lillie stood apart. If anyone pitied her, she was quick to point out that she was the lucky one. She didn’t have to come home and cook dinner for a man. She could take off for the weekend on the spur of the moment without having to see to anyone else’s needs.

Lillie especially enjoyed her overnight trips aboard the “Baltimore Boat.” Old Bay Line offered overnight service between Norfolk and Baltimore.  
The City of Norfolk, part of the Old Bay Line fleet
known as "the Baltimore Boat"
On many Fridays, Lillie dined and danced her way to the big city. Hers was a fun and carefree life that her sisters could not know because of their obligations to husbands and children.

Lillie and others like her just might have a bicycle to thank for such freedom and independence.  

Pedal on over to Sepia Saturday for more old photos and stories.  

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. Actually, a woman can have it all if she plans it right. All my friends were getting married and having children the first few years out of high school or college. Meanwhile, I decided to enjoy the single life until I felt ready to marry and have a family. Best decision I ever made. I had single fun for 10 years and was ready for the rest when the time came. Funnily enough, I met my husband when I was 17, but we lost track of each other for a while (like 11 years!) This coming July we will have been married for 52 years and have raised three beautiful children. Bicycles never really came into play through any of it, but I did enjoy riding them in my earlier years.

  2. Good for Lillie choosing to remain unmarried. I bet she did live the life she wanted to live!!


  3. Well done! Lillie's snapshots are a perfect choice for the bicycle theme and the hidden idea of women's liberation. I wish they still had passenger ship service from Norfolk to Baltimore when I lived in Virginia Beach. Neither flying for driving can compare for that classy transportation.

  4. That's the first time I heard of a connection between women's bicycles and the women's movement! So glad you included that tidbit. Hoorah for Lillian living the life she chose and was happy!

  5. Great post!I had never thought about bicycles as giving women independence, but it would. I haven't rode my in a while...

  6. I had a 10 speed bicycle in high school and since I was late to drive, I often time rode my bicycle to school. Doesn't seem like a big deal but it was probably 5 miles each way. I loved the wind in my hair!

  7. You found some good photos for the challenge!