The great-great aunt of Elsa Millett ’12, a bicyclist of mixed racial heritage in an era that had little tolerance for female athletes, let alone ones who weren’t white, has been rescued from obscurity. Kittie Knox was recently honored for her athletic accomplishments at a ceremony by her graveside in Boston.
Knox, who was born to a black father and a white mother, became a champion cyclist in Boston in the 1890s. Though her skin color and her bicycling attire of pantaloons — instead long, heavy skirts — caused consternation, Knox was undeterred from her sport.
But she died young, age 26, from kidney disease and was buried in an unmarked grave at Mount Auburn Cemetery.
A few years ago, a researcher from Boston University dug up Knox’s name while working on a book about Boston’s bicycling history. This led to a connection with Knox’s living relatives, and eventually to the ceremony for Knox at her new gravestone.
Millett, who majored in gender studies while setting running records at Bowdoin, told the Boston Globe, “I’m proud that there’s a story about such a strong woman in my own family. Despite institutional barriers, she pursued something that she enjoyed doing, that made her heart beat. It’s inspiring.”