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Early bikers in Vermont

The Poultney Historical Society will hold its annual meeting this year a bit differently. It’s teaming up with Slate Valley Trails to host a free lecture and slide show titled “Of Wheelmen, the New Woman, and Good Roads: Bicycling in Vermont, 1880-1920.” The lecture will be held on the lawn in front of the East Poultney Schoolhouse on Sunday, Sept. 20 at 2 p.m.

“The Historical Society is excited to work with Slate Valley Trails as co-sponsors of this program. This kind of community partnership is what we’d love to do more often,” said the society’s president Ina Smith Johnson.

Esteemed historian and UVM professor Luis Vivanco will explore the fascinating early history of the bicycle in Vermont, a new invention that generated widespread curiosity when it arrived here in the 1880s.

During the 1890s, enthusiasm for cycling exploded statewide as bicycles became safer, women took to the wheel, roads improved and retailers developed novel advertising techniques to draw in buyers. The bicycle was tied to important changes in industrial production, consumerism, new road policies and regulations, gender relations and new cultural ideas about auto-mobility and effortless speed.

Vivanco is a professor of anthropology and co-director of the Humanities Center at the University of Vermont. Vivanco’s lecture draws from archival research he began for his book “Reconsidering the Bicycle: An Anthropological Perspective on a New (Old) Thing” (Routledge, 2013). The talk is part of the Vermont Humanities Council series that provided additional funding.

The program is open to the public and accessible to those with disabilities. Attendees will be required to wear masks, and socially distanced seating will be observed under the tent generously provided by Doug Davenport. Seating is limited so people are encouraged to bring chairs or blankets. One might even consider biking to the occasion to embrace the spirit of the bike culture.

A brief business meeting of society members will begin at 1 p.m. and is open to the public. Community members interested in becoming involved with the Historical Society or who would like to lend a hand in the society’s work are encouraged to attend this meeting.

A video of the lecture will be posted on the Historical Society’s site’s home page the week following the event at The Poultney Historical Society is located at 1499 E. Main St. with parking available across the street behind the East Poultney Baptist Church

The talk is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Vermont Humanities Council (VHC). Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the NEH or VHC.



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