This article originally appeared in the Capital Bicycle Club Newsletter July 2013
There are some questions that a 9-year-old daughter can ask her dad that seem impossible to answer. One of them is this: “Why isn’t there a women’s Tour de France?” (All of my rationalizations were met with dissatisfaction, as they should have been.) It’s for that reason that I was very happy to stumble across some cycling history that I could proudly share with my Annie. In what was then named the “most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman,” Annie “Londonderry” Kopchovsky’s trip around the world (1894-1895) made her one of the era’s most famous women. It also did much to push the cause of the Women’s Suffragist Movement forward.
With her determination, a change of clothes, and a pearl-handled revolver, Annie Kopchovsky left Boston and headed West to Chicago on the first leg of her journey. She started her ride on a 42 pound Columbia women’s bicycle and wearing a long skirt. By the time she reached Chicago, however, she traded them in for a 21 pound Sterling men’s bicycle and bloomers.
Her initial plan was to ride westward around the globe, but once she reached Chicago, her plans changed. She decided, instead, to travel eastward with Chicago as her new starting point. From New York, she sailed to Europe, traveling first through France, Egypt, Jerusalem, and Yemen. She then sailed to Singapore and Sri Lanka before arriving back on U.S. soil at San Francisco. From there she bicycled through the southwest and finally back to Chicago where her journey had begun. The whole trip took 15 months to complete.
Originally, the journey was triggered by a wager between two Boston businessmen. The terms of the wager required that she complete the journey in under 15 months, and also earn $5,000 along the way. It was a challenge put forth to prove whether a woman could make her way in the world and survive on her own. …and survive she did! She sold advertising placards and ribbons that she attached to her bicycle and pinned to her clothing to fund her trip. She even took the name of her first sponsor, the Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company of Nashua, NH. She was known to be bold, and outlandish and she used her vehicle and this journey to break the mold of Victorian Era “female propriety.”
To take the journey in the first place, she temporarily left her husband, three young children, and a job behind in Boston. Further, she adopted bloomers and other clothing more fit for cycling over the skirts and corsets that were the expected fashion of women of the time. These actions combined are representative of how the bicycle was contributing to change for women at that time. She was well-supported by the Women’s Suffrage movement and in the year after Annie’s ride, feminist pioneer Susan B. Anthony claimed that “[the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” She may well have also said that Annie Londonderry was the rider of that bicycle.
And so to Annie Londonderry, I give my gratitude for helping lead the way toward a world where my own daughter can enjoy the freedom of riding her bicycle without having to prove anything to anyone. My hat is forever off to you, Annie!
REFERENCES & CREDITS:
Click here for more info about Annie and her travels.
Click here for more info about the impact of the bicycle and women cyclists on the Womens Movement of the 1890s.