By Maria Szin
In the kaleidoscope of Interwar Bucharest, one woman broke free from the shackles of societal expectations, pedalling her way into history and becoming a symbol of resistance and change. Mita Biciclista (Mita the ‘Cyclist), born Maria Mihăescu in 1885, defied conventions and etched her name into the fabric of a society dominated by a rigid male-female dichotomy. This is the tale of a woman who dared to challenge, to ride against the currents, and to become an emblematic figure of change in a bygone era.
Maria Mihăescu’s journey began in Diţeşti, Prahova County, born into modest circumstances as the daughter of a clotheswasher. Unbeknownst to her, an unexpected proposal from a German plumber and popular men would set her on an unconventional path. At the age of 14-15, she found herself initiated into a world of courtesans, yet her thirst for knowledge saw her studying abroad in Paris, becoming a cultured and enlightened young woman, studying a multitude of languages, etiquette, and manners.
The whispers of Mita Biciclista’s name echoed through the streets of Interwar Bucharest, a city captivated by scandal and intrigue. Embroiled in gossip about her relationship with King Ferdinand, she became known as Miţa Cotroceanca, adding to the mystique surrounding her romantic connections. Living a life of luxury and eccentricity, she bathed in bikinis, organized artistic events, and engaged in political talk with powerful men of Bucharest. However, once while bathing topless in the Herastrau Lake, she was arrested for 3 nights by the police – a bold act that clashed with the stringent dress codes imposed on women of that era. During a society dictated by conservative norms, Mita Biciclista carved her path, leaving an indelible mark on Interwar Bucharest’s history with her captivating blend of daring allure and unapologetic extravagance.
Miţa Biciclista became a pioneer in a society dominated by strict gender norms. Riding a bicycle marked as exclusive for men, she defied expectations and became the first woman to cycle in pants in Bucharest during the 1920s. Despite her romantic affiliations, her bicycle became a symbol of emancipation, showcasing her as an independent woman who dictated her path.
In 1898, journalist George Ranetti gave Mita her famous name. Petite and blonde, she earned her nickname from Ranetti who had fallen in love with her but was rapidly refused by her. Engaging in the highest political circles, she became an iconic figure in the capital city, frequently featured in the satirical Furnica Magazine, certifying her modernity and the curiosity she aroused.
In Interwar Bucharest, Mita Biciclista emerges not merely as a controversial character but as a catalyst for change. Her bicycle symbolized more than a mode of transportation; it was a declaration of independence and a challenge to societal norms. As we reflect on her life, we uncover a woman who, through her defiance, became an enduring icon in the pursuit of autonomy and equality.
As the years passed, Mita Biciclista’s fame endured, but so did her challenges. Marrying General Alexandru Dimitrescu in 1940, wartime economic troubles forced her to rent out her iconic house in Piata Amzei, taking refuge in the attic. With the advent of communism, her financial stability crumbled, and the nationalization of her house marked the end of an era. Mita Biciclista passed away in poverty at the age of 83.