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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wheeled Rebellion: Women’s Rights and Skates

December 2011 marked the 127th year since the patent of the roller skate. Why is that even relevant in a month full of festivities and family gatherings? In this season of eggnog-drinking with distant relatives, and possibly contemplating the links that unite you genetically to the orange-haired lady shuffling around in reindeer slippers, we celebrate our heritage. Part of that history as Americans includes rebellion. And for the last 100 years, a common way to express that defiance for American women has included roller skates.

In the Wild West, that spirit presented itself in women who were free to make their own bad choices, like shooting a Winchester on skates, because apparently, nobody told a pioneer woman what to do! In the early 1900s, our suffragette grandmothers carried that tradition forward by strapping on skates to picket the White House for the right to vote. They also hosted all-night skate-a-thons for the cause. Viewed in this historical context, women who strap on gear to play roller derby are just the most recent in a long line of skate-wearing rabble-rousers.
American Levant Richardson could have had no idea when he patented the final design in 1884 that the wheeled boot would be used in the women’s independence movement. Although Richardson made skates faster by adding ball bearings to the wheels, the credit for the original invention goes to the Scandinavians. Sources conflict over whether it was a Dutchman, Belgian, or Swede who actually strapped wheels onto his ice skates. But one determined northern European wanted to enjoy the winter sport regardless of the season. They weren’t a hit. (See picture to the left). Love for roller skating was limited to a few die-hard fans and an efficient bunch of waitresses in Germany, who used them to zip through the beer halls in the 1800s. So, when those Scandinavians immigrated to the New World, they brought with them Santa Claus, lederhosen, and skates. Americans latched on to the best of these Old World inventions and made them mainstream. 

During this holiday season, remember the remarkable history of women, and be sure to share it with the next generation. Take time to recognize the underlying American tradition of taking old, outdated, bizarre ideas and making them cool: Our competitive nature drives us to make things better. Store this little bit of hope away for the next family function. Who really knows what secrets the little orange-haired relative of yours is keeping under wraps?

Post submitted by Misty from The Mommies Network's Content Team

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