Tuesday, January 6, 2009

First Women's Six-Day Race Began In New York City 113 Years Ago Today

The old Farmer's Almanac and other sources say the first women's six-day race began at Madison Square Garden on this day in 1896. But an article in the New York Times archive says the first women's six-day took place in 1895. I try never to argue with farmers. They can be a stubborn lot.

The 1880s and '90s were definitely boom years for track cycling in North America, although watching women battle it out on the pine boards was still a novelty, as the following snippet from another New York Times article makes clear ...
Women on Bicycles:
The Six Days' Race In Madison-Square Garden Opened

Madison-Square Garden was reopened to the paying public yesterday afternoon for another Six days' show. It is a race on bicycles for women and is under the management of William O'Brien. New Yorkers took to it kindly, probably because it promised novelty and excitement. No one was disappointed.

Tony Pastor officiated as starter, and gave the word at 3 o'clock. Twelve expert female riders of the wheel had appeared on the broad pine floor track a few minutes before, and were gliding along gracefully awaiting the opening hour. There were less than 1,000 spectators in the building, and the cyclists did not see many of their sex among them. All the fair contestants were dressed for effect and comfort. Bright colors and natty turbans were conspicuous, and tunics and lights were common. The knickerbockers costume was an exception. There were blondes and brunettes in the group, women of shapely figure, and women who would hardly be selected as models, but all gave evidence of knowing their business and that they meant to race to win.
Yes, track racing was big fun back East near the turn of the century. But the advent of the automobile stunted the sport's growth. This article from The Canadian Encyclopedia lays it out:
The 1880s and 1890s were boom years. Racing on outdoor tracks attracted large crowds and produced many notable performers. The Dunlop Trophy Race, instituted in 1894, ran for 33 years and attracted the leading Canadian and American competitors. The World Cycling Championships were held in Montréal in 1899, and in 1912 the first Canadian 6-day race was held at the Arena Gardens, Toronto. In the 1920s and 1930s, the 6-day race was a regular promotion throughout North America, and lucrative contracts drew the best amateurs to the professional ranks, the most famous being W.J. "Torchy" PEDEN of Vancouver, who amassed a total of 38 wins, a record unbeaten until the mid-1960s.

Early in 1900, the arrival of the automobile diverted public interest from cycling with a consequent drop in attendance at meetings and in membership of the CWA. Much of the enthusiasm generated by cycling was transferred to automobile racing, and innovations that appeared first on bicycles found their way to the automobile. Popularity waned, although competitors and crowds continued to be attracted to six-day races.