A quick web search for Mrs F. M. Cossitt brings up a number of webpages that carry the above photo together with the caption, “Mrs F. M. Cossitt, first woman to ride a bicycle in New York.” Unfortunately none of these webpages include any further information or citations that confirm the provenance of the photograph, who took it, where it was taken, or the identity of the woman in it. This begs the question, is this actually a picture of Mrs F. M Cossitt? And was she the first woman to ride a bike in New York?
It may be significant that the Museum of the City of New York is one of the websites that carries the photo. It lends some credence to the claim that it is of Mrs F. M. Cossitt. Unfortunately the Museum provides no further information about the photo, other than that it was taken circa 1888. A date that does fit with the early days of the growth in popularity of cycling among women thanks in part to the contemporary commercial success of the safety bicycle as an alternative to the ordinary or penny farthing.
A few articles from The New York Times provide further evidence. Its report on the annual century ride of the metropolitan cycling clubs tells us that an F. M. Cossitt of the Riverside Wheelmen was one of the sixty riders who had the “pluck and endurance to complete the journey” on roads that were “in a miserable condition”  In 1894 F. M. Cossitt appears again as a member of the committee tasked with organizing the Bloomfield Cycling and Athletic Association’s lantern parade .
A year later we see a Mrs F. M. Cossitt make an appearance when the New York Times reported that she was on the Executive Board that was organizing the Bloomfield Cycling and Athletic Association’s fair to be held at Central Hall on May 7th and 8th, 1895, the clubs own premises being thought too small to host the event . The fair seems to have been successful in attracting big crowds, who enjoyed such delights as the “art booth” where “all sorts of choice bric-a-brac, pastels, and artistic trifles” were for sale; the “stationery and perfumery booths”; the “fishing pond”, a version of a lucky dip where customers could ‘fish’ for a mystery prize; the “oriental booth” for its range of “Turkish cigarettes, pipes, tobacco, and cigars”; and the “common-sense booth” where “everything of a domestic nature” was to be had. Music was provided by the Essex Mandolin Club, all cyclists as well as musicians, while refreshment in the form of lemonade and a “hot supper” in the dining room were available 
We may conclude therefore that Mr and Mrs F. M. Cossitt were a married coupled, that Mr Cossitt was definitely an active cyclist, and that both he and Mrs F. M. Cossitt actively participated in the Bloomfield Cycling and Athletic Association at a time shortly after the date that the photograph is assumed to have been taken. It is also clear that the initials, F. M., in Mrs Cossitt’s name are those of her husband, rather than her own. Who then, was Mr F. M. Cossitt?
The New Jersey State Census of 1895 lists only one person with those initials, a Franklin Millard Cossitt who was married to Carrie Estella Cossitt, née Grey. Both were recorded as residents of Essex County, an area that includes Bloomfield . Assuming that the description accompanying the photograph is correct we can say with reasonable confidence that the woman captured riding her bicycle is Carrie Estella Cossitt.
Shortly before the photograph is thought to have been taken Franklin Cossitt was working for George Eastman, the inventor of the Kodak roll film camera in 1888 and the founder of the Eastman Kodak Company in 1892. Together with Franklin, Eastman had received letters patent for “certain improvements in detective cameras” in 1886, the same year that Franklin and Carrie were married . Given his interest in cameras and photography this raises the possibility that it was Franklin himself who took the photograph of his young wife on her bicycle.
This still leaves us with the question as to whether Carrie was the first woman to ride a bicycle in New York. There appears to be no written record that this was the case. In 1890 a columnist in the New York newspaper, The Sun, stated that Pauline Hall, an actress and singer, “was the first woman who ever rode a bicycle”, having been taught to ride on West End Drive after being inspired to start cycling by “a superabundance of adipose tissue” . Hall is seen cycling at least as early as 1888 when The Evening World reported that she had “created a furor of excitement by appearing on Columbus Avenue”, Boston, on a bicycle that she had brought with her from New York so that she could take “exercise every afternoon while on her engagement” . In November of 1888 The Evening World carried another story under the headline “Cycling Prima Donna: Pretty Pauline and Jaunts on the Wheel” in a somewhat fulsome and fawning account of her cycling prowess .
These and other reports of Hall’s cycling activities cast doubt on the assertion that Carrie Cossitt was the first woman to ride a bicycle in New York. Interestingly The Evening World itself is the source of another claim that casts doubt on Hall’s credentials as the first woman to ride a bike in New York. A 1919 article on the life and fitness regime of the 80 year old American Civil War veteran and celebrated athlete, Harry Buermeyer, makes the claim that it was his wife, Mary, who “was the first woman to ride a bicycle in New York City” . As with the photograph of Carrie the statement is not qualified by any further information.
Of course Hall was already famous in 1888, and Mary Buermeyer was known as a swimmer and weight lifter in her own right, as well as being the wife of Harry Buermeyer. As such both were more likely to be the subject of press attention than Carrie Cossitt, which may explain why evidence for her being the first New York woman to ride a bicycle is not to be found. Perhaps the most likely scenario is that the first female New York cyclist was a sister, daughter, or wife who learned to ride on a male relative’s bicycle and whose name was never recorded.
Unless further evidence comes to light it is not possible to determine who was the first woman to ride a bicycle in New York. While a claim is made for Carrie Cossitt it relies on the most meagre evidence. What does seem probable is that the photograph of a young woman on a bicycle is indeed of Carrie. While it is doubtful she was the first woman to ride a safety bicycle, there is a possibility that she may have been the first woman from New York to be photographed doing so.
 “The wheelmen’s century run,” New York Times, June 15, 1890.
 “Bloomfield cycling and athletic association’s lantern parade: Eight miles of parade and a collation,” New York Times, June 18, 1894.
 “Bloomfield cyclers fair,” New York Times, April 29, 1895; “Bloomfield wheelmen’s fair,” New York Times, May 5, 1895.
 “Bloomfield’s cyclists’ fair,” New York Times, May 8, 1895.
 You can search the 1895 State Census Records for NJ at Ancestry here; and view Franklin’s and Carrie’s records on Ancestry.
 “On a safety bicycle, and off it too; experiences of a woman learner,” The Sun, New York, November 30, 1890, 26.
 “Miss Pauline takes daily exercise astride a bicycle,” The Evening World, New York, September 22, 1888, 1.
 “Cycling Prima Donna: Pretty Pauline and Jaunts on the Wheel,” The Evening World, New York, November 29, 1988, 3.
 “Harry E. Buermeyer, once all round champion, still athletic marvel at eighty,” The Evening World, New York, July 28, 1919, 14.
 United States Patent No. 353545, November 30, 1886; “Franklin Millard Cossitt,” The Cossitt Family, http://cossitt.org/family%20stories/family%20story%2012.htm
by Mike Dash
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