In the 1800s most women couldn’t ride a bicycle. In fact, most of them wouldn’t. It was an age of long billowing skirts, where woman’s suffrage was a growing movement and wearing trousers was downright scandalous.
Annie Londonderry first pushed down on her pedals out of Massachusetts State House on June 27, 1894. She was headed all the way around the world, but she barely knew how to ride a bicycle. A couple of quick lessons in the days before she left was all that separated her from never riding in her life. But she wouldn’t let that stop her.
Earlier in 1894, two rich men from Boston had set a wager. They bet that no woman could cycle unaided around the world and they were pretty certain of their success. The odds were placed at $20,000 against $10,000. That’s still big money today, but when the average wage at the time was $1,000 it was enough to make your eyes water.
But this incredible lady, whoever she was, couldn’t just cycle around the world. The terms of the wager stated that she must also raise $5,000 more than her expenses, to prove her self-sufficiency… Oh, and do the whole trip in under 15 months. No small order then.
Annie Kopchovsky would not have been your first choice of woman to pitch against the wager. She was 24 years old, a mother of three young children (all under 6) and a Jewish immigrant to America, in a time when anti-Semitism was high. Never mind that she had barely ridden a bicycle. But Annie didn’t need anyone to pick her – she chose herself, and rode out of Boston on June 27 to a crowd of spectators.