Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The New Woman

"The bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world."
- Susan B Anthony

On June 25, 1894 Annie Cohen Kopchovsky stood before a crowd of suffragists, supporters and curious onlookers in front of the Massachusetts State House and declared that she would cycle around the world. Leaving her three children behind, Annie hopped on her 42 pound Columbia bicycle carrying nothing but a change of underwear and a pearl-handled revolver to settle a bet between two Boston clubmen. Ten years earlier Thomas Steven had circled the globe on his bicycle riding 13,500 miles in 32 months and the bet was that no women could repeat his feat. The two wealthy clubmen wagered $20,000, as well as $10,000 to the woman who completed the ride. Having had only two short lessons on the bicycle, Annie set off to circle the globe in 15 months. The terms included that she start penniless and raise $5000 above her expenses during the course of her ride. On that June afternoon she earned her first $100 as a representative of New Hampshire's Londonderry Lithia Springs Water Company paid her to bear a placard and to take their name for the trip. Annie Londonderry then hopped on her bike and "sailed away like a kite down Beacon Street," according to the Boston Evening Transcript.

Annie Londonderry challanged all the Victorian notions of womanhood. She temporarily abandoned her roles of wife and mother in order to travel alone for fifteen months, most of the time wearing a man's riding suit while riding a man's bicycle. After successfully completing her ride, Annie moved her family to New York where she had a short career writing for the New York World with the byline of The New Woman. The story about her trip begins "I am a journalist and a 'new woman,' if that term means that I believe I can do anything that any man can do."

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