Sunday, July 10, 2022

From Jessie Dalrymple to Mrs. Joseph H. Albert: A Cycle in Bicycling

Earlier this week the Mill posted that great cyanotype of the Fourth of July parade on Court Street in 1892. A strong candidate for one of the women cycling is Jessie Dalrymple. She seems to have biked mostly before marriage and not so much, if at all, afterwards. It's hard to disentangle gender and class, however. Her story, as we can sketch it here, and perhaps later say more if new evidence comes to light, might really illuminate bicycling in Salem society during that first great bike boom of the 1890s.

Myra Albert Wiggins (l) and Jessie Dalrymple (r)
at Myra's wedding (detail)

We've actually seen Jessie before, at Myra Albert Wiggins' wedding in 1894. 

Myra and Fred Wiggins had met bicycling. With Otto J. Wilson and Myra's brother, Joseph, at least five people in the wedding party are known to have biked. Others are possible, even likely.

Joseph Albert, as we saw yesterday, was son of an important banker and later a banker himself.

Albert-Wiggins Wedding, Nov 24th, 1894
(Oregon State Library)

Jessie had in fact married Joseph, a year after Myra's wedding, in 1895. (He's kneeling directly in front of Jessie.)

November 13th, 1942

January 3rd, 1939

Joseph was, at least for a while, a figure in Salem bicycling. An early bike club, the Chemeketa Bicycle Club, organized in May of 1887.

May 27th, 1887

Its founding members are very interesting and we will come back to them.

E. M. Waite, president; L. L. Pearce, secretary and treasurer; H. L. Hatch, captain; Glenn Lewis, 1st lieutenant; H. Fiske, 2nd lieutenant; Burt Lucas, bugler. The remainder of the club is composed of the following: J. J. Maerer, C. A. Baker, C. M. Lockwood, Chas M. Cox, Horace A. Willis, Jos. Albert, Herbert Wilson, Breese Riggs, Chas. Smith, Daniel Smith and Al. Whitaker.
C. M. Lockwood you will recall from the note about the cyanotype. Horace Willis is son of Leo Willis, and brother of Percy. Jos. Albert is there also.

Like many early bicycling clubs, they affected a military organization. Not long after they appeared in that year's Fourth of July parade.

July 8th, 1887

The description highlights the military angle and also that this was a niche interest at that time:

The Chemeketa Bicycle club made a specially handsome appearance. This organization, with a few independent bicyclists, rode two abreast after the fire deparment, each cyclist simply in a white shirt and pantaloons, except, of course, the tricyclists. Counting all, there were thirty-four in line - twice as large a number as any other city in the state has been able to turn out. They attracted much attention and admiration upon their fine appearance.
A few years later, Albert was selling bicycles, though I am not sure he had a storefront. I think he was "agent" only.

May 13th, 1895

After the 1899 cycle path legislation, he was president of a consortium of clubs in Marion County oriented to building more side paths.

April 24th, 1899

The bike path legislation failed broadly. Few were constructed, and even fewer maintained. Soon they were abandoned. There were problems with payment, compliance, maintenance, fashion, and new technology.

December 8th, 1899

The Alberts also lost interest in bicycling. As well-to-do Salemites and early adopters generally, the Alberts moved on to cars once bicycling was popular and had lost the signalling function as expensive and exclusive transport. The story of biking in the 1880s and 1890s is a story of class, also. In an 1899 list of property tax valuations, Bush towers over all Salemites and second only the the railroad, but Joseph's father, John, is right there in the very next rank. Joseph himself is doing pretty well. Off the clip, Jessie's father is listed for a bit more than Joseph. Though there are of course different tiers of prosperity and wealth, in general this is the Salem gentry.

Crashed July 5, 1905
Died a few days later

We know that Myra and Joseph's mother, Mary, died in what is likely the first auto fatality in Salem in 1905. John's steam car had malfunctioned and crashed on a hill in West Salem, and Mary was injured and died.

April 9th, 1886

Jessie's father, J. J. Dalrymple had started out in the R. M. Wade company (along with Leo Willis), and later opened his own store. He sold the store with great fanfare in 1904. (We now remember the name as a house ruined when in an attempt to move it, it fell from a crane in 1972.)

You may recall the note about Jessie's new bike in 1892, "a fine lady's Queen Featherstone safety bicycle, costing $140." Three years later, Joseph was advertising a bike for $85. These prices would be a few month's wages for an ordinary laborer. Until enough second-hand bikes were sloshing around the market in the early 1900s, bikes were not cheap enough to be populist transportation. In the 1890s they were toy and hobby and status symbol, leading edge ground transport technology.

July 30th, 1898

Even before cars, though, a note about a picnic in Turner three years after that Waverly ad and Jessie's marriage is ambiguous, but does suggest a kind of confinement and a different signalling function. "The ladies went in a carriage while the gentlemen formed a body guard on their bicycles." If we assume this is representative, the freedom offered by the bicycle for women disappeared after marriage. Indeed, Mrs. Albert appears in the paper only as a musician after her marriage, "one of Salem's ablest preformers [sic]," and even this may have ended after a few years, as her obituary locates her musical performances "in her youth."

June 23rd, 1897; June 27th, 1898; May 22nd, 1899

That's not ironclad proof of anything. Jessie's sister, Mrs. Griffith, might not bike; one or the other might have suffered injuries from childbirth or pregnancy, or from any number of other moments in life, that precluded bicycling. There are multiple possibilities and we shouldn't press this one bit of evidence too strongly. But it does suggest that as a prosperous wife her job was to be ornamental and artistic, not active and independent. There may be a story of loss here.

The role biking earlier played in the relationships, too, is not clear. There is reason to think biking was foundational for Myra Albert and Fred Wiggins, but all of them were hanging out together in multiple contexts. Here is a beach trip with all the couples, Wiggins, Albert, and Griffith, before they were married.

All the couples! July 25th, 1892

A photo of a tennis party from 1889 also shows several of them. Another wedding in 1894, this one for Paul Sroat of the Sroat & Wilson Cyclery, has much overlap in wedding party and guests. They were all part of the same circle of society. Salem wasn't a very big town, and they did plenty of other things together.

So in the absence of diaries or letters, it is still hard to see exactly how bicycling functioned in the life of Jessie Dalrymple and later in her role as Mrs. Joseph H. Albert. The evidence is more extensive for it before marriage, and that must mean something. It is also clear that the whole social circle in which she traveled was, at least in the 1890s, interested in cycling. But that circle also moved on to the automobile in the 1900s.

The rise and fall of Jessie Dalrymple's interest in bicycling points to changing fashion and the role of gender and class. Hopefully we'll find more evidence and there will be more to say another time.

Previously here:

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