It’s been said that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. But this park’s namesake was more helpful than most!
Lewis Park, four acres of spontaneous greenery in University City, is named in memory of the suburb’s founder, Edward Gardner Lewis, who also served as its first mayor. Lewis was a magazine publisher and political activist. University City was one of the two planned communities (now cities in their own right) that he founded.
What is now University City sprang up around the publishing house Lewis constructed for two of his titles: Woman’s Magazine and Woman’s Farm Journal. With the help of saleswomen, he quickly built circulation up to over a million subscribers. Along the way, he also created the American Woman’s League, which was a benefits fund for his sellers. Membership was extended to the women who sold above a certain number of subscriptions and provided access to pensions and education.
In 1911, Lewis founded an organization called the American Women’s Republic (AWR), which helped women prepare themselves for citizenship once granted the right to vote. It functioned as something of a shadow government, where women held decision-making roles. His ultimate vision was to set up a utopian community for the AWR and, in that spirit, decamped to California, where he founded the city of Atascadero. Later in life, he did a stint in jail for mail fraud and more or less disappeared. But his cities and his legacy remain.
The park is small, but full of character. The mischievous sculpture appearing to pedal around the pond is the work of London-based sculptor Steven Gregory, who is known for his affinity for the wry and absurd. A sneaky smile spreads across the fish’s bronze face, as if it’s delighted by its own cleverness. The unusual cyclist was first installed in 1997 and quickly became a local favorite. It has been maintained by the Gateway Foundation’s public art program ever since.
The sculpture references the phrase coined by Australian feminist Irina Dunn: “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” The “bicycle fish” phrase and imagery has been adopted by feminists, most notably Gloria Steinem and Flo Kennedy, and its presence in the park reminds visitors to remember Lewis’ legacy and his work in the suffrage movement.