A Woman to Know: Annie Londonderry Cohen

I am “new woman,” if that term means that I believe I can do anything that any man can do. — Annie Londonderry

I am “new woman,” if that term means that I believe I can do anything that any man can do. — Annie Londonderry

(image via Wikimedia)

She would one day bicycle around the world. But before that 1894 trip, Annie had only been on a bike twice — both times to prep for the trip itself.

After immigrating from Latvia in the 1880s, Annie married a nice man, had two children and moved to Boston with her family — nice and simple. She never rode by bicycle, because you know, being a lady. But then she caught wind of an outrageous competition: two local businessmen had bet that a woman could never match the around-the-world cycling trip undertaken by a man 10 years earlier. Annie, being Annie, decided she’d give it a shot.

The two men put some limits on the contest: she’d have to do the trip in a mere 15 months, and they’d give her no money to start — she’d have to earn money for her expenses along the way. Annie’s preparation consisted of those two cycling lessons, of course, but also in finding a sponsor. She shrewdly approached Londonderry Lithia, a spring water supplier, and agreed to change her name (“Annie Cohen” became “Annie Londonderry”) and affix a Londonderry sign to her bike, all in exchange for the company’s financial support (kind of like a proto-NASCAR deal).

In June 1894, she set off on the first leg of her trip, biking across the continental United States. She hit a couple snags on the way: for one, petticoats slowed her down, and secondly, women’s bikes were much heavier. She decided to shed the skirts (wearing bloomers instead) and ditch the bike (she’d do the second part of her trip, through Europe and Asia, on a light men’s racing bike). She continued the trip, attracting more and more attention along the way. At the start of 1894, she taped signs to her bike to earn money, speaking to crowds along her travels, too. In March 1894, she began the third leg of her trip back in the United States, bicycling from San Franscisco all the way home to Boston.

She “landed” in Boston on September 24, 1895 — exactly one day away from the 15-month mark.

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