To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, June McDonnell looks at the life of the legendary Annie Londonderry, the first woman to cycle around the world 125 years ago.

Annie Cohen was born in Latvia in the 1870s. The exact date of her birth is unknown. Her parents, Levi and Beatrice, and four other siblings moved to the United States when Annie was a young child. Sometime later they got citizenship.

The family moved into a tenement in Spring Street, Boston, a large house they shared with several other families. Life was difficult for the Cohen family. Tragedy struck when their father died in 1887 and two years later their mother passed away.

In 1888 Annie met and married Max Kopchovsky. They had three children in quick succession, Mollie, Libbie and Simon. Bennett, her older brother, also married and had two children. Both families lived in the tenement in Spring Street and helped look after the two younger Cohen children.

Max Kopchovsky, a devout Orthodox Jew, worked as a ‘Peddler’. To help with the household bills Annie worked selling advertising space for several daily Boston newspapers.

Around this time bicycles and cycling was becoming popular. A Harvard student, using the pseudonyn ‘Paul Jones’ claimed to have cycled around the world. This claim proved to be fake.

However, it did give rise to the idea of attempting to cycle around the world. It is reported that two wealthy Boston men bet $20,000 that no woman would – or could – cycle around the world in fifteen months and earn $5,000 in sponsorship along the way.

The two men were Dr. Albert Reeder, a physician with a medical office in Boston’s Park Square, and Colonel Albert Pope, the owner of Pope Manufacturing Company of Boston and Hartford, a company that produced ‘Columbia Bicycles’.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own