Katherine “Kittie” Knox was born in 1874 to a free black father and a white mother. She became a successful seamstress and skilled cyclist. Modern-style bicycles were all the rage in the 1880s and 90s. Bikes also provided inexpensive, independent transportation for women.
Knox joined the Riverside Cycling Club in her hometown of Boston in 1893. She was known for her graceful riding style and also for winning races, even against male competitors. She insisted on riding men’s style bikes and wore a stylish knickerbocker suit complete with baggy pants that she had made herself. It was still unusual for a woman to wear any style of pants in public but riding a bicycle was becoming an acceptable time to wear a voluminous and loose style of trouser.
In 1894, the League of American Wheelmen, a national cycling club, changed its policy to define itself as “whites only”. Knox had already been a card-carrying member when the rule change happened. Undaunted, she showed up at the 1895 annual meeting to challenge it. She was allowed to maintain her membership as she was already part of the club, but was not able to change the rule. However, she brought the attention and discussion to the issue of segregation in the sport.
Knox died in 1900 at age 26 from kidney disease.