May is National Bicycle Month, which was established by the League of American Bicyclists to celebrate the power of the bicycle, and to promote overall bicycle safety education. For more than a century, the bicycle has been an important part of the lives of many Americans, and has had a significant cultural effect on our society, even being hailed as a key to women’s freedom. Now that’s power!
In the late 19th century, as the bicycle became safer and cheaper, more women had access to this new found personal mobility, giving them a taste of freedom that they had never had before. Because of this “freedom machine”, women were able to work outside of the home, contribute to their families in an entirely new way, and redefine their roles both at home and within society. Cycling also led to a more practical way of dressing for women, the restrictive clothing of the era… corsets, long, layered skirts worn over petticoats or hoop, and long sleeved shirts with high collars, gave way to bloomers and baggy trousers, making it easier for women to ride. The bicycle slowly became a symbol of the “new woman” of the 19th century and contributed significantly to women’s liberation. One of those “new women” leading the mobility movement, was woman you should know, Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, better known as Annie Londonderry.
Annie Londonderry (1870-1947), an immigrant and unconventional working mother of three, became the first woman to bicycle around the world. Her adventure was a test of a woman’s ability to fend for herself, and was also considered one of the greatest publicity stunts of the Victorian Era. After being challenged by two businessmen, that a woman could not ride a bicycle around the world, Annie, despite never having ridden a bicycle before, pedaled her way out of Boston, leaving her husband and young children behind.
When the Londonderry Lithia Springs Water Company of New Hampshire signed on to become the first of her many sponsors, Annie Kopchovsky became Annie Londonderry, and a legend was born. Annie persevered and finished her epic, 15-month trip having earned an astounding $5,000 by selling advertising space on her bike and her clothing, making personal appearances in stores and at bicycle races, and lecturing about her adventures along the way. Following the life-changing trip, Annie moved with her family to New York, where she wrote features stories for New York World. Annie’s first story was an account of her cycling adventure where she wrote “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 was a bold woman, who turned every idea of what it was to be female in the Victorian Era on its ear, and proved the impossible to be possible all while inspiring generations of women to do the same. So the next time you grab your bicycle, remember Annie and kick some ass!