Her moments in the spotlight may have been limited, but Annie Cohen Kopchovsky lived them hard and bright as a marketer, adventurer, storyteller, and the first woman to bicycle* around the world.
(*or possibly, “around the world with a bicycle”- she played a little loose with the rules at points.)
In the spring of 1894 Annie, a 24-year-old Jewish immigrant and married mother of three, set out from Boston to do the seemingly impossible: Bicycle around the world. A man had done it, but not a woman… and this woman was alone! Clutch your pearls, ladies!
Annie was uniquely qualified for the challenge, mostly because it was fabricated by her to sell bikes/make her rich/get her out of the house/be the face of the New Woman…or was it? Maybe there were two businessmen and a wager. Annie became a determined professional cyclist, but at her core she was a brilliant marketer, and her business was selling her story however true- or not- it was.
Here’s a delightful ditty explaining the adventure:
Annie’s trip consisted of several continents, two different bicycles, ever-shifting rules, a change in attitude about wearing bloomers, near constant eyebrow raising, the thrill of a growing celebrity, and more tall tales than the entire history of the Wild West.
It was amazing!
Annie returned home to Boston 15 months to the day of her departure (which seems a bit suspect to us) a changed woman. She had a brief fling with keeping ahold of that fame as a journalist but faded from history; leaving a wake of charm, chutzpah, and mystery for us to share.
TIME TRAVEL WITH THE HISTORY CHICKS
There are not a lot of books available for Annie. Her great-nephew wrote this one and it’s, as far as we know, the definitive- and only-Annie Londonderry biography.
Specific to US women’s history and how the bicycle played a role in women’s rights (and Susan forgot to mention.):
Annie’s story does appear in a lot of compilation books, Susan liked this one:
This is the site maintained by Annie’s great grand-nephew who wrote her biography. Lots of information and photos on AnnieLondonderry.com
The New Woman: Annie “Londonderry” Kopchovsky (a documentary trailer) from Gillian Willman on Vimeo. The full documentary isn’t yet online for you to view, but we’ll tell you when it is, it’s charming! (And here is an Interview with Gillian K. Willman who created that documentary and will resonate with for everyone who has had to work with a baby on your lap.)
That list of 41…41!…absurd Rules for women cyclists from New York World via Brain Pickings
There are several sources that we liked for more information about Jewish people of both Boston and Latvia, and Russia in general and the education of Jewish girls (this one is on the Jewish Women Archives, it’s a really great source.)
Annie grew up in Boston tenement housing, probably stayed at one when she was in New York City, but there is a fantastic museum there, The Tenement Museum. If you can’t visit, they have quite a bit of information on their website (but if you can, you should.)
Before Annie rode around the world, Thomas Stevens did it on a penny-farthing, here is his book on Project Gutenberg, Around the World on a Bicycle (and we warned you about the slight, racist elements.)
If falling down a rabbit hole full of lithium water is your thing, here’s an article from the LA Times extolling the contemporary virtues, a history of the Londonderry Lithia Water Company, an article about the public water fountain and a resort in Oregon where you can take the waters now (if you can get past the smell.)
And finally, because Susan promised…
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The end song is, That’s What Hopes Are For by Emma Wallace
used with permission from iLicense