May Marshall, Amy Howard and Madame Anderson are probably not the names of women you are familiar with, but in the late 19th century they were the star athletes of the day. The Pedestrian movement was a sport of endurance walking that lasted for days. The Pedestriennes were the female participants, and they utterly stole the show. In an era where women did not walk alone, lest they be accused of being “street walkers,” a Pedestrienne was a model of feminine strength and endurance. These were no walks in the park. Participants often walked for 6 days straight, taking only brief periods of time to rest. They often ate standing, wore specially designed outfits, and wore the soles of their shoes through. Pedestriennes also ran the risk of having their race sabotaged by people who would put pieces of glass or other dangerous objects on their walking path, or even put poisons in their food or flowers. If gambling was involved, they were at risk.
The Pedestriennes: America’s Forgotten Superstars, by Harry Hall, explores the triumphs and scandals of the life of the Pedestriennes, as well as brings more light to a sport that was more or less abandoned by the turn of the century. In an era where roller derby has picked up speed again and more women are participating in endurance challenges, it’s great to get a closer to look at those who came before. Hall goes in depth with his portraits of these once famous women, but also admits to taking liberties and points out that the papers of their day did just that as well. Newspapers in the 1800’s weren’t well known for a lack of bias, after all. The book is an interesting read, focusing on the difficulties that the women suffered outside of the sport, as well as the intense challenges of the track. I found myself going through it at great speed. Harry Hall also includes a very detailed bibliography and a great deal of page notes for readers who want to research for themselves.
The Pedestriennes: America’s Forgotten Superstars is now available from Dog Ear Publishing.