“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
Her adventure began with a bet. In 1894, one gentleman in Boston bet another, $20,000 against $10,000, that no woman could travel around the world by bicycle, a feat that had been completed for the first time by a man in 1885. Annie Cohen Kopchovsky took up the challenge and set out from Boston on June 25, 1894. Married and a mother of three children under age 6, she had ridden a bicycle for the first time only days before.
Under the terms of the bet, Annie had to begin her journey penniless, earn $5000 above her expenses along the way, and finish her trip in 15 months. She wasted no time. On her way out of Boston, she hung a placard advertising Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company from her bicycle, accepted $100 from the company’s representative, and agreed to be known as Annie Londonderry.
Annie reached Chicago in September, where she nearly gave up the trip altogether. But she traded her 42-pound ladies’ bike for a men’s model that weighed half as much and set out again in the opposite direction, back East. In November, she sailed from New York to France, then earned money by carrying advertising on her clothing and bicycle as she rode.
Because the bet didn’t specify how many miles she had to ride, Annie sailed from Marseilles all the way to East Asia, with brief stops in Egypt, Sri Lanka, and Singapore, then toured China and Japan. On March 23, she arrived back in the U.S. through San Francisco Bay’s Golden Gate. Over the next six months, she bicycled across the West, reaching Chicago on September 12, 1895, just 15 months from her original Boston departure, and only 10 months after her Chicago re-departure.
She had done what the Boston gentleman had bet $20,000 no woman could do. Not only had she circumnavigated the globe by bicycle, an astounding athletic feat in itself, but she had done it alone, proving that a woman could make her own way in what was still very much a man’s world. She had fended for herself and survived physical injury, mechanical problems with her bicycle, and the scrutiny of the press. In Chicago, Annie collected her $10,000 prize and then rejoined her family.
Read more about Annie Cohen Kopchovsky (alias Londonderry) in “This Week in History,” and subscribe to get Jewish women’s milestones delivered weekly to your inbox from the Jewish Women’s Archive: jwa.org.
As part of our month-long series dedicated to Jewish American Heritage Month, Kveller and the Jewish Women’s Archive bring to light little-known stories of inspiring, intriguing Jewish American women whose legacies still change our lives today. To explore even more, visit jwa.org.