What do we associate with roller skates?
Disco, afros, fast food, maybe Patrick Swayze in Skatetown USA.
We definitely don’t think of the Victorian Age, which calls to mind matronly tight-laced women and extreme poverty as opposed to shredding it up at the local skating rink. But say you were a Victorian middle or upper class youth, and your every romantic endeavor was carefully watched by your elders... Wouldn’t you strap wheels to your feet in order to escape?
It turns out skates, like overbearing parents, have played a large part in amorous history for hundreds of years. These bad boys, along with teenage lust and the perennial desire for courtship, helped spark a brief but momentous sexual revolution in the 1870s.
Roller skates had already been around for 100 years when James Leonard Plimpton invented a new pair that would allow wearers to turn around and easily go in circles. Plimpton opened the first skating rinks in New York, and by the 1970s they were becoming popular in London as well, not just because of the “health benefits” that Plimpton promised.
"The skating rink is the neutral ground on which the sexes may meet," reported Australia's Port Macquarie News, "without all the pomp and circumstances of society.”
At the time, this new freedom was revolutionary: Finally there was an arena for youths to flirt not-so-secretly, without a chaperone present, and physical contact was allowed, even encouraged for balance. (Yeah, sure. We used that same excuse rollerblading in middle school.) And women's clothing even grew tighter and shorter to allow for more movement in the rink.
In BBC's "The Victorian Craze That Sparked A Mini-Sexual Revolution," Justin Parkinson writes, "It was hardly the sort of sexual revolution Britain and much of the rest of the Western world was to experience almost a century later, with the advent of "free love," mini-skirts and the pill, but at least it offered a little more freedom."
Roller skating would become less popular in the 1890s, only to return for circle skirts and disco. We are in full support of rebellion and "fast women" anyway, so here's to roller skates and those horny Victorians.
"If a youth possesseth good parts do they not shine to greater advantage in the whirring arena of wheels; if a maiden be graceful, doth not her grace become still more charmingly enhanced by the very poetry of motion?" asked the Port Macquarie News, a paper from the Victorian age.
“Yes, indeed," responded Beyonce.
Images via refinedguy, bbc, angelpig, tumblr