American Women on Roller Skates

By: Sydnee C. Winston, Project Coordinator

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a roller skater. I got my first pair of skates when I was seven years old and took off rolling.  Many a birthday growing up was spent at a roller rink with friends, cruising down the wood-paneled floors with bright purple shoestrings zigzagging their way up my crisp white skates. What I didn’t know while I was boogieing on down at the rink was that American women have a unique and fascinating history with roller skates.

The roller skating craze hit America pretty hard in the late 19th century. James Leonard Plimpton had invented the quad skate in 1863, just two years before the civil war ended and by 1884, roller derby’s started gaining popularity. In April 1905, roller rinks opened in cities in New England and New Jersey, and women were among the enthusiastic skaters. The skating rink offered young women a space where they could experience a sense of freedom from the constant supervision of a parent.

Check out this cool footage of women and men roller skating in 1907, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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