July 28, 1894 – New York City – A crowd of hundreds, including many reporters, swelter under the repressive heat of the hottest summer in thirteen years in anticipation of the departure from their budding metropolis of a twenty-three-year-old woman named Annie “Londonderry” Cohen Kopchovsky.
She was an enigma. A married Jewish mother of three, Londonderry claimed to have only ridden a bicycle three times previously, yet boldly promised the public she would circumnavigate the world on a bicycle in fifteen months. When Londonderry arrived in New York City on July 3, 1894, she told the New York Herald she would only remain in their fair city for three days because of her pressing time schedule; instead, she lingered for three weeks, perhaps attracted to all the city had to offer. Londonderry had become a young woman suddenly unencumbered by husband or children, a scandal in its own right for the times.
Whether Annie’s adventure was to fulfill a wager, as she boasted to newspapers, or to fulfill her own whimsical desire to change her life – change her life Mrs. Kopchovosky did; Miss Londonderry, as she became known to the world, attracted headlines as one of the most infamous sport stars, as well as suspected charlatans, of her time. Annie’s chutzpah and bravado also made her an international symbol of the “New Woman” – a term popularized by the American author Henry James in the late nineteenth century and adopted in the early stages of the modern feminist movement.
Many consider the 1890s to be the start of the modern world, with New York City glittering at the forefront of change: a woman’s right to vote was just around the corner; the city was swiftly becoming the center of the advertising and newspaper world; Broadway, the city’s most famous street, was soon to be synonymous with top-notch theater worldwide and Madison Square Garden was home to unprecedented sports spectaculars including cycling races and expos. Despite the popularity of cycling at the time, sports sponsorship of women was non-existent, but Annie Londonderry was about to change that forever.
It certainly wasn’t this simple, but it was as though one rebellious woman donned a pair of bloomers, hopped on a bicycle, and the world was forever changed, stepping into modernity and never looking back.*
Various round-the-world cycle rides had already been undertaken by Americans, and these feats promoted both the new cycle and travel industries. Thomas Cook had organised and led his first round-the-world tour in 1872, and his first personally conducted tour to Dalmatia (now Croatia), Bosnia and Herzegovina departed from London in May, 1894.
The Exposition Internationale d’Anvers was the 1894 World’s fair, this year being held in Antwerp, Belgium in November 1894. Newspapers and magazines were full of stories from many parts of the world, and steamships were available to carry passengers to Europe and further afield. So many advertisements now promised a life of independence should a woman decide to buy a bicycle, it’s easy to see how many in America got carried away with the excitement of it all. While cycle makers suggested various styles of ladies’ bicycle for their female customers, women also rode mens’ machines with a crossbar – surely the ultimate statement of rebellion for those who wore bloomers.
1894/1895 Ariel ‘Model No 3’ Light Roadster
(Ariel Cycle Mfg Co, Goshen, Indiana, USA)
1894 NATIONAL CYCLE SHOW
MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, NEW YORK
1895 ARIEL CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
* Annie Londonderry photo and introductory text with thanks to – http://narrative.ly/the-renegade-rider-of-1894/