Katherine T. Knox, also known as Kittie, was born in Boston in 1874. As a young adult, Knox worked as a seamstress, but found her true passion in bicycling. In 1893, she joined the Boston Riverside Cycling Club – established as the first cycling club for African Americans in Boston that same year – where she participated in races and regularly won against her male competitors.
Knox also became a member of the League of American Wheelmen (LAW), despite its member population being overwhelming men. But Knox was always one to push the envelope. Just before their 1895 meeting, Knox won a costume contest dressed in men’s clothes to cycle. In fact, Knox often sported knickerbockers when she raced. She was a competitive and talented racer, competing in 100-mile races – even placing 12th among the 50 male and female competitors.
In 1894, the LAW passed a rule barring all non-white individuals from joining. However, being that she was already a member of the organization and not one to back down from a fight, Knox felt it was only right for her to attend the 1895 meeting anyway. When she did, however, she was met with significant resistance. The credentials of her membership were rejected and she was instructed to leave.
The ordeal was picked up by journalists across the country, with Knox starting conversations around the exclusion of African Americans in bicycle organizations. Though she did not see the rule overturned in her lifetime, she was awarded a continued membership by the League, as advocates cited that the rule could not be retroactive.
In 1900, Knox died of kidney disease at just 26 years old, having made incredible strides for black women in the world of bicycling over her short life.