top of page

Annie Londonderry- Around the world on a bicycle

Annie Londonderry (1870 – 11 November 1947), born Annie Cohen Kopchovsky,was a Jewish Latvian immigrant to the United States who became the first woman to cycle around the world in 1894–95.

Her family immigrated to the United States in 1875, and she had a typical upbringing. In June 1894, at the age of around 23, she cycled away from her Boston home, leaving behind a husband and three little children, to embark on a tour around the world.

Cycling was popular in the 1890s. The rise in popularity of the safety bicycle (two equally sized wheels) sparked a fad in the United States.  Cycles allowed women unparalleled independence, allowing them to travel more readily, freely move, and experience neighborhoods other than their own. Bikes, according to Susan B. Anthony, have done more to "emancipate women than anything else in the world."

In 1894, two Boston gentlemen gambled on whether a woman could cycle around the world, a feat first accomplished by a man in 1885.

Kopchovsky was picked and had to complete her voyage in fifteen months, starting off penniless and earning $5,000 plus expenses along the route, according to the wager.

To that purpose, she mounted a sign promoting the Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company on her bike (the first of several money-making methods she would devise to fund her travels) and took the name Annie Londonderry!

Her itinerary brought her to France first, then south through North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, east to Sri Lanka, on to Singapore, north along with some of the Asian Pacific Rim countries, a final steamer to San Francisco, and a meandering passage of the United States back to Boston. 

She checked in at approved US consulates along the way to prove her presence at the place. A smart woman indeed!

She was robbed, driven over by a buggy, and ridiculed for her unfeminine apparel, which developed from a corset and full skirt to bloomers and, inevitably, men's clothes.

She charmed crowds with such anecdotes, which reporters faithfully published – many of them fake tales. One was that she had been kidnapped in France by bandits.

There is proof, however, that she did not circumnavigate the globe exclusively on a bicycle, but rather with it. However, like any woman traveling alone in the late Victorian Era, let alone riding a cycle independently, she was considered as both a curiosity and the ideal of bravery.

Leaving one's family for more than a year to ride around the world takes guts to do without money, with hardly any riding experience, and without a support structure.

She is a wonderfully remarkable lady who liked showing women as being just as entrepreneurial as men, and her journey perfectly exemplified the convergence of feminism through movement, enlightening chapter in the narrative of women just at turn of the century.

18 views0 comments
bottom of page