Photo: Baltimore Afro-American newspaper, 1928. Addison Scurlock, photographer. Photographcourtesy of the Smithsonian Institution. (
Have you heard about the five black women who biked from NYC to D.C. in 1928? Don’t worry if you haven’t, I didn’t know about them either until I started doing some research.
Last year I posted an article about scorchers click here to view that post. Within that post, I posted a picture of myself in my black Girls Do Bike cycling gear. I have been cycling as an adult for the past three years and I love every bit of it. From the freedom I get from riding long and short distances to the comradery among the other cyclist. I truly enjoy it. “You are one ride away from a good mood.” -Sarah Bentley.
Anyway, I wanted to find more article and stories about black cyclist in the 19th and 20th centuries. So I went straight to google and came across a podcast episode of The Bicycle Story, which featured Historian Marya McQuirter, she spoke about uncovering this story of the five women. After listening to the episode I went to newspapers.com to see what I could find about the ride.
Easter Weekend, 1928 in New York City five ladies; Marylou Jackson, a student at Hunter College, Velva Jackson, a nurse at Gramercy Hospital, Ethyl Miller, a public school teacher, Leolya Nelson director of Physical Education for the Y.W.C.A (Young Women’s Christian Association ) and Constance White a student at Sargent School of Physical Training (The New York Age 14 Apr 1928, Sat) embarked on a 250 mile bicycle journey to Washington D.C. in three days. According to The New York Age newspaper article from April, 14 1928 I found, the group left Manhattan at 6AM on Good Friday, April 6. The first day of their trip they rode 110 miles to Philadelphia and were able to stay at the Philadelphia branch of the Y.W.C.A. This first destination could have taken them anywhere from 10 to 16 hours depending on how many times they stopped and how long those stops were. Saturday, April 7, the ladies rode a much shorter distance to Wilmington, Delaware, that ride could have taken them anywhere from 2 to 5 hours again depending on frequency and duration of stops and location.(google mapped hours and distance) The shorter ride from Philly to Wilmington gave the women an opportunity to rest and recharge. Easter Sunday, April 8, the ladies rode about 10 or so hours give or take to Washington, D.C. (google mapped hours and distance). According to the article the ladies reached D.C. about 9PM and once the ladies arrived they visited sites like the White House, Potomac Park and the campus of Howard University. According to Historian Marya McQuirter, the women stayed the night at a Y.W.C.A in D.C. and took the train back from D.C. to New York with their bicycles.
Marylou, Velva, Ethyl, Constance and Leolya were brave, they didn’t let their fears hold them back from going on a great adventure and doing something they enjoyed. According to the article the ladies challenged any women 21 years or older to take the same trip and do it in less time.
I definitely feel inspired to go on a similar adventure 🤔