Around The World on a Bicycle
Annie ‘Londonderry’ was the first woman to travel alone around the world on a bicycle and fend for herself
Let us first look at the background behind Annie Londonderry’s historic trip around the world-
In the 1890s the suffragette movement was on in full swing in the major countries in the world like Britain, US, Australia and New Zealand. The two wheeled bicycle was looked upon as the perfect instrument for women emancipation.
Formerly bicycling for women was frowned upon. The Victorian society had stereotypical views when it came to women. Despite looking up to a Queen as their monarch, the people believed women to be fragile creatures who would faint easily and needed to be taken care of. The suffragettes wanted to change this.
The bicycle was a medium which could be used as a means of transport across towns. This gave women freedom to travel alone and explore more than the four walls of their house. Furthermore, most women switched out of the restrictive heavy dresses and began wearing bloomers which even though look ridiculous to us today were better than wearing dresses.
Around 1894 two wealthy men sat at a pub discussing about these two things- bicycles and women’s frail temperament. The two men were likely to be Dr. Albert Reeder, a practicing physician and Colonel Albert Pope of the Pope Manufacturing Company who also produced Columbia Bicycles.
As normal pub etiquette the two men set up a wager- a woman couldn’t travel around the world alone and fend for herself. Rich as they were, the wager price was $20,000 against $10,000. The conditions of the bet was that a woman must travel across the world and cycle in the countries. There was no specific distance decided. The catch was that in doing so, she must complete the journey in 15 months and earn $5,000 for herself during the journey.
No one knows why but they chose the most unlikeliest of candidates- Annie Cohen Kopchovsky.
Annie Coven was an immigrant from Latvia. At 21, she was the mother of three young children and a Jew. She stood at 5ft 3’’ and weighed only 45 kgs. And she had only recently started riding a bicycle!
If Annie had to do this journey, she would be away from her family for 15 months and leave her children under the care of her husband. It is not known if her husband was open to the idea, nonetheless she took up the challenge.
The Journey Begins
On 25th June, 1894, Annie set off from the Massachusetts State House in the US amidst 500 people cheering her on. Amongst the crowd was her family, curious onlookers and the proud suffragettes.
Annie had with her no money, a pair of clothes to change into and a small pistol to keep her safe. She wore a dress and rode on a Columbia bicycle. On her travels, she referred to tour books published by L.A.W. They were accurate with road conditions and facilities for cyclists. She followed their path since she would be kept company of other cyclists along the way.
Before setting off, Annie was aware that her Jewish surname might land her in trouble because of widespread anti-Semitism. One of Annie’s qualities was that she was an amazing salesperson. To earn money (one of the rules of the mission) she sold advertising on her bicycles and on her person.
The Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company paid her $100 to have their company name on her bicycle and told her to take the name ‘Annie Londonderry’ for the duration of her trip.
So thus, Annie ‘Londonderry’ began her journey.
Distraught and having lost 9 Kgs (20 pounds), Annie and her 20kg Columbia bicycle reached Chicago in September. She had lost her vigour to continue and decided to head back home to Boston.
As luck would have it, Annie was introduced to the Sterling Cycling Works. Sterling Cycling Works offered her a lighter cycle. It had a single gear and no brake. Annie also switched to wearing comfortable bloomers and later to men’s riding suits.
From here she made her way to New York and sailed for France. In France, after a brief hassle with the law, she rode from Paris to Marseille and Lyon. She then boarded another steamer for South East Asia.
Whilst on her way there, Annie rode her bicycle in Jerusalem, Alexandria and Colombo. In Asia, Annie covered Singapore, Saigaon, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Nagasaki and Kobe.
How Did She Fend For Herself?
Annie was a gifted storyteller and a self-promoter. She got companies to advertise on her bicycles in each country she rode. She would use ribbons, boards, or paint to advertise. Using cyclists discounts, Annie also saved money.
As her journey made waves around the world, she also began giving lectures in the places she visited and earned a fee. Annie would talk about killing Bengal Tigers in India and getting shot at in Japan. Most of her stories were just that, stories.
The media began critiquing her mission saying that she was travelling excessively with the bicycle than on it. Anyways Annie Londonderry continued on her mission.
During the last leg of her tour, she rode for 4 months and injured herself multiple times. She had a near death accident with a horse and wagon. And to top it off she dived headlong into a herd of pigs and had to get a cast on her hand.
Finally with two weeks to spare, Annie successfully returned from her journey. Even though she hadn’t literally travelled the world on a bicycle, she had achieved much more.
Winning the price money of $10,000, she returned to her family.
Annie Londonderry had proved that women could travel to any destination in the world, unchaperoned and have fun. Besides travelling, Annie had also provided for herself and earned $5000.
Women realised that their true potential was far greater than what they were deemed to have. They could now ride their bicycles to work, travel around the world, wear men’s suits and ask their husbands to care of their children.
Annie took up a job in New York as a journalist where she wrote her mind-blowing stories of her adventures. Most of them don’t seem to be true.
What happened of Annie Londonderry later is unknown. She mostly retired early and went back to being a homemaker and unfortunately receded from the history books.
“I am a journalist and ‘a new woman’ if that term means that I believe I can do anything that any man can do. “
– Annie ‘Londonderry’ Kopchovsky
Do you know something more about Annie ‘Londonderry’ Kopchovsky or women who like her travelled the world? Comment below to let us know.
What are your views on her historic journey? Share them below as well. Comment, I’d love to know:)
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This is a special blog celebrating our 7th woman on the 7th day of Navratri. We’ll be sharing the inspirational life stories of 9 women in 9 days so stay tuned.
Read about the other 6 women who inspire us-