Tillie The Terrible Swede - How One Woman, A Sewing Needle, and A Bicycle Changed History

40 pages   Grades 1-5

* This post is part of the children's
Nonfiction Monday hosted
today by Wrapped in Foil *  

A True Tale with A Cherry On Top 

        and Illustrator: SARAH McMENEMY

C haracter: Tillie Anderson,
            an immigrant from Sweden
            and the women's bicycle-racing
            champion of the world in the 1890s

O verview from the picture book jacket flap:
     "In the old days, most girls came to America with a dream. All Tillie Anderson had was a needle ... So she got herself a job in a tailor shop and waited for a dream to come and find her.
     And then one day, a man sped by the shop on a bicycle  That was it ... With arduous training and her (shocking!) new clothes, Tillie began entering - and winning - races.  Amidst criticism for her 'unwomanly' riding and support from women's rights activist, she became a whirling sensation - and the women's bicycle racing champion of the world!
     Sue Stauffacher's lively text and Sarah McMenemy's charming illustrations capture the energy of the bicycle craze that swept America in the 1890s and tell the story of a remarkable woman who would not let society's expectations stop her from achieving her dream."
T antalizing taste:
    "'Bicycles aren't for ladies,' Tillie's mother reminded her. But Tillie wasn't listening. From that day on, she saved up her money and dreamed of nothing but riding. Not the slow and stately sort of riding. No, Tillie dreamed of the speedy, scorchy, racy kind of riding."

and something more:  After reading this wonderful picture book biography, Tillie the Terrible Swede by Sue Stauffacher, I wondered why Tillie Anderson stopped racing when she was doing so well, winning 18 out of 19 races in 1901.  I learned from the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame that Tillie "remained the champion of the World until retiring in 1902 when women were barred from racing due to the level of danger involved in the sport."  Hmm... steps forward and steps backwards.
   Tillie Anderson was a U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame 2000 Inductee in the Veteran Pre-1945 Competitors Category.  In that same year another woman was honored: Jacquie Phelan in the Mountain Bike Category.  I live in mountain biking territory (Marin County, California) where Jacquie also lives (although I'm more of a hiker than a biker).  Jacquie took her first mountain bike ride in 1980 on a three speed, and became the U.S. Women's National Champion in 1983, 1984 and 1985.  She organized the Women's Mountain Bike and Tea Society (WOMBATS), an organization that encourages women's and girls' participation in the sport.  She organized the sport's earliest skills camps called Fat Tire Finishing School.  In 2004 she placed 8th overall in the Transportugal, a 1300 km offroad adventure race, where she was the only woman participant.  I think Tillie Anderson would have been thrilled to be honored along with Jacquie Phelan.
     And because this is a Valentine's Day post, it's sweet to acknowledge both of their marriages to spouses who support(ed) their cycling passion: Jacqui to the inventor, Charlie Cunningham, a pioneering bicycle framebuilder, and Tillie to her manager.
    Also, just yesterday, Jacquie participated in a fundraiser here in Marin for Trips for Kids, a national organization that takes inner-city children on guided mountain bike adventures.  Terrific! And in May 2011, the author Sue Stauffacher and her husband, cyclist Bob Johnson, and various groups of schoolchildren along the way, will ride from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Chicago, Illinois, on The Tillie Ride to deliver donated copies of Tillie the Terrible Swede to the Chicago Public Library.  Terrific!
    Inspired by these wonderful women, I think I might just get my bike out of the garage, put some air in the tires, and go for a ride!


Sarah said...

You put so much detail into all of your blogs! I'm looking forward to reading your latest!

Anonymous said...

I agree! The passion you put into your writing makes me wish I had your talent! Where can I buy "Astro the Steller Sea Lion"?