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June 25: Annie’s Bicycle Ride

June 25, 2013

L.A.W.101194Annie Cohen Kopchovsky set out from Boston on her around-the-world-in-fifteen-months bicycle trip on this date in 1894. Born in Riga, Latvia, and the mother of three young children, Kopchovsky’s trip was a response to a wager, which would earn her $10,000 if she succeeded (the feat had been completed by a man in 1885). The Londonderry Spring Water Company launched her with $100 to carry their placard on her bike — and she became known as Annie Londonderry. Although she had first ridden a bicycle only days before, she pedalled out of Boston on a 42-pounder, which she exchanged in Chicago for a 21-pound men’s Sterling (having already exchanged her skirts for bloomers). Kopchovsky’s extraordinary solo trip — with a lot of steamship travel — included France (Paris to Marseilles on bicycle in two weeks), Egypt, Jerusalem, Yemen, Sri Lanka, and Singapore, before she biked from San Francisco to Los Angeles to El Paso to Denver and back to Boston by September 24, 1895. She earned her way by signing photographs, endorsing products, and speaking on vaudeville and other circuits, while overturning every imaginable Victorian principle of womanhood and becoming a sensation of the Gay ’90s.

“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.” --Susan B. Anthony, 1896

Annie’s great-nephew, journalist Peter Zheutlin, wrote a book about her adventures, Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry’s Extraordinary Ride. He also maintains a very informative website. Watch a trailer for the 2013 documentary about Annie Londonderry Kopchovsky: