Phyllis Harmon: League of American Wheelmen (LAW) Collection – Now open for research

Guest post by Lindsay Sprechman

Phyllis Harmon: League of American Wheelmen (LAW) Collection

Phyllis Harmon: League of American Wheelmen (LAW) Collection

University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston is happy to announce that the Phyllis Harmon: League of American Wheelmen (LAW) Collection is now open and available for research. This collection documents Phyllis Harmon’s work in the bicycling community, especially her work with the League of American Wheelmen, a prominent bicycling organization.

The League of American Wheelmen was founded in 1880 to address bicyclists’ needs. In their early days, they advocated for bicyclists’ access to roads at a time when many laws and ordinances were written keeping them off the road. LAW was also instrumental in the Good Roads Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which advocated for improved road conditions. The League became inactive twice during periods from 1924 to 1939 and from 1955 to 1964, but reorganized in 1964 and still continues to advocate for bicyclists today. LAW was renamed the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) in 1997.

League of American Wheelmen newsletter, June 1940

League of American Wheelmen newsletter, June 1940

Phyllis Harmon is known as the “Grande Dame of American Bicycling” for her work with LAW and other bicycling organizations. Harmon became a member of LAW in 1939 and served numerous roles in the organization, including treasurer, executive vice president, historian, office manager, executive director and honorary director. However, her most prominent position was her role as writer and editor of LAW’s magazine, LAW Bulletin. Harmon volunteered to publish the magazine from her home and edited it from 1939 to 1945 and again from 1964 until 1979. For her contribution to the bicycling world in Chicago and around the country, Harmon was inducted into the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation’s Hall of Fame in 2006 and the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in 2009.

This collection includes many of LAW’s organizational records, including Board meeting minutes, constitutions, by-laws, correspondence and memos. It also includes materials on LAW’s conventions and rallies, membership directories and surveys, collected research and articles about bicycling, and more than 30 years of issues of the LAW Bulletin, and its successor, Bicycle USA.

View the finding aid for this collection.

For questions about this collection or to schedule a research appointment, please contact library.archives@umb.edu or 617-287-5469.


University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston collects materials related to the university’s history, as well as materials that reflect the institution’s urban mission and strong support of community service, notably in collections of records of urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, and local history related to neighboring communities.

University Archives & Special Collections welcomes inquiries from individuals, organizations, and businesses interested in donating materials of an archival nature that that fit within our collecting policy. These include manuscripts, documents, organizational archives, collections of photographs, unique publications, and audio and video media. For more information about donating to University Archives & Special Collections, click here or email library.archives@umb.edu.

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Boston bicycling history in the news… and in the archives

Congratulations to author Lorenz Finison, whose book Boston’s Cycling Craze, 1880-1900: A Story of Race, Sport, and Society has been named one of The Boston Globe’s Best New England books of 2014! Published by the University of Massachusetts Press, Boston’s Cycling Craze, 1880-1990 “explores the rise of Boston cycling through the lives of several participants … [and] reveals the challenges facing these riders in a time of segregation, increased immigration, and debates about the rights of women.”

After completing work on his book, Larry Finison donated several archival collections, research materials, and publications that he’d gathered from groups, organizations, and individuals connected to the history of bicycling in Boston and around the world. The significance of these acquisitions, their relation to other collections held by the University and the fact that no other repository is preserving this material led UMass Boston to add the history of bicycling in the Boston area to its formal collection policy in August, 2014.

21 June 1969. The parade at Rockport, MA. Dr. Ralph Galen in front. Dr. Paul Dudley White behind.

21 June 1969. The parade at Rockport, MA. Dr. Ralph Galen in front. Dr. Paul Dudley White behind.

To that end, we are excited to announce that archivist Meghan Bailey has completed processing the first of these new collections documenting the surprisingly complex and rich history of bicycling in the City of Boston: the papers of Ralph W. Galen, which were donated to University Archives & Special Collections by Larry Finison, on behalf of Galen’s daughter, Terry Galen.

Dr. Ralph W. Galen, also known as “Wally” by his childhood friends and family, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and resided for many years in Lexington and Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1954 he completed his graduate work in orthodontics at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, where he received an appointment as a teaching fellow. He practiced orthodontia in Cambridge for nearly forty years.

Galen may be best known for his passion in the cycling world, co-founding the Charles River Wheelmen bicycle club in 1967 with his friend Fred Chafee . He later became president of the League of American Wheelmen, a national bicycling organization established in 1880 and reorganized in 1965 following a ten-year hiatus, where he became Life Member #1. In his early years with these organizations, Galen rode to Expo 67, part of Canada’s Centennial celebration in 1967, and across the United States. Later, Galen rode through thirteen countries in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and authored a book about his journey entitled 2 Wheels 2 Years & 3 Continents: A Bicyclist’s Dream Fulfilled. Over the course of his lifetime he rode “boneshakers,” “high wheelers,” tandems, fixed gear, and road bicycles. He also amassed a collection of antique bicycles, which he later donated to the Lars Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline, Mass.

Ralph Galen received two patents along with fellow inventor John Vanderpoel, one for a bicycle safety flag apparatus in 1997, and another for a bicycle rack in 1976. He also invented a side mirror, which clamps onto the front fork next to the front wheel of the bicycle.

This collection documents the activities of Ralph Galen, including the activities of the Charles River Wheelmen Board of Directors dating from the early 1970s. Formats include minutes, notes, and agendas. The collection also contains personal materials, including records of Galen’s inventions for bicycles, correspondence with friends and family, and his notes and writings pertaining to articles and the book 2 Wheels 2 Years & 3 Continents.

Members of the public who are interested in donating papers, correspondence, photographs and other documentation of the history of bicycling in the Boston area are invited to review our donation brochure and to contact library.archives@umb.edu for additional information.

If you have any questions or if you would like to schedule a time to explore this or any of our collections, email library.archives@umb.edu or call 617-287-5469.

View the finding aid for the collection “Galen, Ralph: papers, 1959-2012.”


University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston collects materials related to the university’s history, as well as materials that reflect the institution’s urban mission and strong support of community service, notably in collections of records of urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, and local history related to neighboring communities.

University Archives & Special Collections welcomes inquiries from individuals, organizations, and businesses interested in donating materials of an archival nature that that fit within our collecting policy. These include manuscripts, documents, organizational archives, collections of photographs, unique publications, and audio and video media. For more information about donating to University Archives & Special Collections, click here or email library.archives@umb.edu.

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