Annie Londonderry: A Woman of Discovery

Annie Cohen Kopchovsky’s (a/k/a Annie Londonderry) bike ride between 1894 and 1895 was, the New York World declared, “the most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman.” The married mother of three children under the age of six was attempting to become the first woman to ride around the world by bicycle. The name “Londonderry” came from the first of several corporate sponsors of her journey, The Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company of Nashua, New Hampshire.  Though she is often heralded as the first woman to circle the world on a bicycle, there is much more to her story!

The trip was reported to have began by a wager that required Annie not only to circle the earth by bicycle in 15 months, but to earn $5,000 en route, as well. A $10,000 prize, an enormous sum in the 1890s, would be given to her if she succeeded. This was no mere test of a woman’s physical endurance and mental fortitude; it was a test of a woman’s ability to fend for herself in the world.

Annie turned every Victorian notion of female propriety on its ear. Not only did she abandon, temporarily, her role of wife and mother, but for most of the journey she rode a man’s bicycle attired in a man’s riding suit. She earned her way by selling photographs of herself, appearing as an attraction in stores, and by turning herself into a mobile billboard, renting space on her body and her bicycle to advertisers eager to benefit from this colorful spectacle on wheels.

Outlandish, brash, and charismatic – a master of public relations, a consummate self-promoter, and a skillful creator of her own myth – Annie was a woman of boundless chutzpah. Indeed, as Annie Cohen Kopchovsky reinvented herself as a new woman – the daring globetrotter and adventurer, “Ms. Annie Londonderry” – she became one of the most celebrated women of the 1890s.

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