23 May 2022


Lost Capitol Hill: Belva Lockwood’s Tricycle

Belva Ann Lockwood

Last week, we looked at an article from Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly magazine, and in particular, one page containing a number of sketches showing life in D.C. This week, we will concentrate on one of those images. It shows a woman seated on a tricycle with two large wheels in the front and a smaller one in the back. Underneath is the laconic caption “Mrs. Belva Lockwood,” as if that was all one needed to know.

And, at the time, it almost certainly was.

The vignette shown was already at least eight years old when it was reprinted in Frank Leslie’s. On October 14, 1884, the exact same image was printed in the Louisville Kentucky Courier-Journal. Benjamin West Clinedinst, whose signature is under other pictures in the Frank Leslie article, was in Paris at that time. Therefore, this either means the illustrations are from a variety of sources, or that Clinedinst just ripped off the previous image. Either way, it makes determining who was responsible for the artwork all the more difficult.

But, back to the subject of the picture. Belva Lockwood is today best known for her Presidential campaigns, as well as her work in front of the Supreme Court. She was, in her time, also well-known for many other things – including being an avid tricyclist. Since anything done by Lockwood was newsworthy, the Washington Evening Star noted her first attempts in an article entitled “Mrs. Lockwood Practices on a Tricycle.”

Mrs Belva Lockwood, the well-known female lawyer, and prominent in the woman suffrage movement, also essays to become the foremost female tricyclist of the land. With that end in view, she has provided herself with a handsome silver-mounted, three-wheeled velocipede, which she hopes to master in time. A few evenings since, leaving her law books and clients behind, she went to the City Hall park to do some pedal work and gracefully glide over the smooth walks.

The article continues by describing her outfit and her failure to properly coordinate her feet, which ends with her toppling over. The article ends on a hopeful note “it is pretty safe to say that she will soon be an expert and graceful rider.”

Belva Lockwood on her tricycle, along with other uses for this now out-of-fashion vehicle. (Frank Leslie’s Monthly)

And so it was. She soon became notorious not just in the city but all across the country for her tricycling, and was quoted on the matter many times: “I won’t straddle a bicycle because that would be naughty, but I’m death on the tricycle.” (Washington Evening Critic, August 26, 1881)

Of course, not everyone was enthusiastic about this new mode of transportation, with the Critic somewhat ungrammatically scolding her “Wouldn’t Martha Washington be shocked if she could see Mrs. Lockwood riding down the Avenue at a 2:15 gait on tricycle.”

Others were more positive. John W. Forney, jr, was quoted as saying “I confess I cannot see why this should be regarded as such an amusing performance as some of the correspondents profess to think it is. It is cheaper than the horse-cars, it is quick travel, and it is good exercise.”

Next week: The highs and lows of Lockwood’s tricycling.

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