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Annie Londonderry: the first woman on a bicycle for freedom

Travel the world by bicycle? It can be done! Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, known as Annie Londonderry, has succeeded. Of Latvian origin and emigrated to the United States with her family at the age of five, she was the first young woman to travel the world on two wheels. The death of his parents, the cohabitation with his brothers in the Spring Street of the chaotic Boston, the marriage with the street vendor Simon and the three sons conceived starting from the age of majority marked his adolescence and his life.

Free woman and globetrotter, she has always had revolutionary aspirations for the time in which she lives. Born in 1870 and died in 1947, Anne challenges the environment in which she is born and grows. In a world that is still too chauvinist, he accepts the challenge and marks history, makes an important contribution to the affirmation of women’s rights and becomes a model.

In February 1894 a Harvard student under the pseudonym Paul Jones tried for the first time ever to ride the world, betting $ 5,000. The company fails but the bets do not end. The difficulty of the challenge increases: two Americans – think of doctor Albert Reeder and colonel Albert Pope – raise the stakes and bet $ 20,000 on the inability of a woman to travel the world by bicycle in little more than one year.

With a paltry and arrogant attitude, men in Boston joke and laugh about the company. No woman would ever be able to do it and come out victorious. But here Annie comes forward in a diffident and discouraging climate. Jewish in a country with widespread anti-Semitic tendencies, certainly not massive in body, mother and wife, without any kind of experience on two wheels – but above all women – Londonderry unexpectedly accepts the challenge. His faithful companion is a 42-pound bicycle.

June 27, 1894, is the date of his departure, 11:00 the time. A gun, a change of clothes and some travel books accompany her for the duration of the effort. It starts from its city, Boston and goes through New York, Ohio, Illinois. But not only: it also touches France – Paris, Lyon, Marseille – and Alexandria of Egypt. From Israel to Yemen, from Sri Lanka to Singapore, from Vietnam to China, the young cyclist turns her over every expectation.

The traveler proceeds not without difficulty. Good weather allows you to ride even for ten miles a day. But with the arrival of winter, the business becomes more arduous. Starting with a bodice and a skirt, she decides to change clothing wearing a men’s suit. Particular that not a little revolutionized women’s clothing.

With greater freedom of movement, a bike with a single gear and without any brake, Annie continues her project. Nothing stops her, not even the bureaucratic problems or the confiscation of the means of transport to the French customs. Accidents, difficult routes, and an unsuitable climate do not frighten the fearless woman.

Stockton, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Phoenix, El Paso, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Vegas are just a few of the stops Annie has reached. It also touches Nebraska, the valley of Missouri, Illinois to return to Massachusetts.

Against all odds, on 24 September 1895, the 24-year-old returns home. Good or bad has attracted the attention of the media and has obtained sponsorships and support that at the beginning of the challenge seemed to be missing. Everyone changes their minds not only about Londonderry and its potential but also about women in general.

Negative and offensive comments turn into incredulous praise and immediate excuses. Because of all this arduous journey fomented by a playful game, another note is added: earn even $ 5,000 in those 15 months on a bicycle. And the globetrotter once again does not disappoint.

“The most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman” write local and non-local newspapers. She does not care about the $ 20,000 of the bet won or those earned during the long ride. Great physical and mental strength, a perfectly functional combination of audacity and boldness, fighting not only for itself but also for women who still live in a condition of disparity, starting from the criticisms leveled against her clothing.

“New woman”: this is how he calls himself at the end of his adventure. In 2007, great-grandson Peter Zheutlin published “Around the world” in honor of Annie Londonderry’s death. In 2011 the artist Evalyn Parry presents a performance – whose main theme is the bicycle – and which includes a song about this brave woman: “Annie Londonderry’s ballad”. Finally, Gillian Klempner Willman of Spokeswoman Productions produces a 26-minute documentary entitled The New Woman – Annie “Londonderry” Kopchovsky which debuts in February 2013.

Valiant, decisive and, according to many men, excessive and reckless, the cyclist who had never ridden a bicycle defies bad weather, distance, fatigue, and distance from the family. He manages to overturn the result, gaining confidence while removing his skirt and wearing masculine pants. She confronts herself and fights for women. Independence is what you are looking for in a time that is still backward and retrograde, in which the females are derided if they decide to get on the saddle and start pedaling.

But Annie wins against the prejudices, the difficulties and the derision of the rich American men who judge her sitting on their seats. It triumphs in the name of its femininity and the struggle for autonomy and self-management. And so here is that another small but great woman fits into history with arrogance and pride, leaving its mark.

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3 Comments

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