Annie “Londonderry” Cohen Kopchovsky (1870–1947) was the first woman to bicycle around the world. She was a free-thinking young woman, who reinvented herself as the daring “Annie Londonderry” — entrepreneur, athlete, and globetrotter.
She was born into a Jewish family in Riga in modern-day Latvia around 1870, and emigrated to the United States as a child. She married Max Kopchovsky in 1888 and had three children by him in the following four years.
Around the world
The Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company paid her $100 to carry its placard on her bike and also contracted with her to adopt its name. Travelling with a change of clothes and a pearl-handled revolver, Londonderry earned her way by turning her bicycle and body into a billboard, carrying advertising banners and ribbons through cities around the world. She was a remarkable sight to Victorian eyes.
Londonderry claimed that it was set in motion by a novel wager by two club members in Boston - a claim made by other travelers during the "round the world" fad. Londonderry’s challenge was to circle the globe by bicycle in 15 months and to earn $5,000 . The venture was a test of a woman’s ability to fend for herself. Despite having never ridden a bicycle, she pedalled out of Boston leaving her husband and young children .
Having travelled from New York to Chicago, she exchanged her skirts for bloomers, and her woman's 42-pound Columbia bicycle for a 21-pound men's Sterling. Possibly due to the winter, she switched her route from west to east and headed to Europe via New York City. She arrived in Le Havre, France on December 3, 1894. Despite bureaucratic difficulties, Londonderry said her trip through France was the highlight of her experience. She made Paris to Marseille in two weeks to public acclaim. She steamed across the Mediterranean to Egypt, making short tours throughout Egypt, Jerusalem and modern-day Yemen, before sailing to Colombo and Singapore.
Returning to the United States at San Francisco on March 23, 1895 she cycled to Los Angeles, then El Paso, and north to Denver where she arrived on August 12, 1895. Along the way, she regaled audiences with fanciful tales of her journey, and seemed to thrive in the lime-light. She arrived in Boston on September 24, 15 months after she had left. Her ride was described by the New York World on October 20, 1895, as “the most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman.” Despite criticism that she traveled more "with" a bicycle than on one, she proved a formidable cyclist at impromptu local races en route across America.
The New Woman
After the trip, Annie Kopchovsky moved her family to New York, where under the by-line "The New Woman," she wrote sensational features for several months for the New York World. Her first story was an account of her cycling adventure. "I am a journalist and 'a new woman,'" she wrote, "if that term means that I believe I can do anything that any man can do."
Her fame soon passed and she died in obscurity in 1947. However, in 2007 a great-nephew of Annie's, Peter Zheutlin, published the book Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride. In 2011, Evalyn Parry premiered her musical play about Londonderry called SPIN. It is currently being performed as a travelling one-person show in Canada and the US. A documentary film, titled The New Woman - Annie "Londonderry" Kopchovsky was also produced, by Gillian Klempner Willman of Spokeswoman Productions. It premiered in February 2013 at the DC Independent Film Festival, where it won Best Documentary.
- Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride. Citadel. November 1, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8065-2851-9.
- Elizabeth Robins Pennell, who wrote of her cycling tours around Europe in the 1880s