Who are Tillie + Kittie?

by Rebecca Pearcy on 21 April, 2016

When I was finalizing our new bike pannier designs, my husband asked me if I had picked names for them yet. I hadn’t. I wasn’t planning to, I’m not sure why not. But his question got me thinking. I realized that it would be a cool opportunity to highlight a couple of women from cycling history. The thing is, I could barely think of any famous women in cycling at all. The only woman I could think of was Tillie “the Terrible Swede” Anderson. I learned about Tillie when I came across a children’s book about her. Since my son was born over 6 years ago, I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of books to him. I have become keenly aware of how few books feature female protagonists, so I’m always on the lookout for children’s books that feature girls and women. ‘Tillie the Terrible Swede’ by Sue Stauffacher looked right up my alley. Here is the book’s description from the author’s website:


"When Tillie Anderson came to America, all she had was a needle. So she got herself a job in a tailor shop and waited for a dream to find her. One day, a man sped by on a bicycle. She was told “bicycles aren’t for ladies,” but from then on, Tillie dreamed of riding—not graceful figure eights, but speedy, scorching, racy riding! And she knew that couldn’t be done in a fancy lady’s dress… With arduous training and her (shocking!) new clothes, Tillie became the women’s bicycle-riding champion of the world.
Sue Stauffacher’s lively text and Sarah McMenemy’s charming illustrations capture the energy of America’s bicycle craze and tell the story of one woman who wouldn’t let society’s expectations stop her from achieving her dream."

I LOVED this book. A girl, a sewing needle, a bike, and raw determination? It resonated hard. The text is fantastic and the illustrations are delightful. Our faux-leather commuter pannier is named after Tillie Anderson. You can learn more about her here. 

Our faux-leather commuter pannier, the "Tillie"


I then went searching for another notable woman to name our Canvas Tote Pannier after. Katherine “Kittie” Knox was a shoe-in. Kittie was a young, biracial Bostonian who was an avid cyclist. She challenged racism and segregation in society and within the National League of American Wheelman. Like Tillie, she was also a seamstress (swoon!) who designed her own cycling “costumes” that shocked society. Maybe someone smart & talented will write a children’s book about Kittie too - her story is so compelling and inspiring. You can learn more about Kittie here and here.


Our water-resistant canvas tote pannier, the "Kittie"


I sincerely hope that these remarkable women will inspire you in some way - to be yourself, to break the rules, to pursue your dreams. I know that they are only two of the many, many women who have paved the way for all of us today.

Tags: bicycles, bike lifestyle, bike love, cycling, inspiration, panniers

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