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Backstory: Retracing Annie Londonderry's Victorian odyssey

Part 2: A 19th-century woman's break with tradition – and '15 minutes of fame' – rediscovered.

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Annie Londonderry, the "globe-girdler," as she was often called, was seven months into her 'round-the-world journey when she arrived in Marseilles, France, on her Sterling bicycle to a hero's welcome.

Her celebrity had grown so great that, a week later, thousands crowded onto the quay to see her sail for the Middle East aboard the steamship "Sydney." One local newspaper said Annie had "captured the hearts of the people of Marseilles."

But what the people of Marseilles didn't know was that the Boston lady with the Irish surname was actually Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, a 23-year-old Jewish immigrant from near Riga, Latvia, who came to Boston as a young girl with her family in the mid-1870s.

Annie was a pioneer of sports-related marketing for women, and she went by the name Londonderry by agreement with her first sponsor, the Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company of Nashua, N.H. Having broken – at least temporarily – the ties that bound her to Boston, Annie was free to reinvent herself on the road as the daring globe trotter, Mlle. Londonderry, cyclist extraordinaire. Though the wager that purportedly set her in motion was a test of whether a woman could do what only a man had done before, Annie's journey wasn't motivated by a desire to make a political statement. Rather, the bicycle was Annie's means of escape from a life constrained by 19th-century expectations of women. By age 18 she was married and had one child; when she left to cycle the world in 1894, she had three young children and a job selling ads for several Boston newspapers. Her husband, Max, was a devout Jew who made a modest living as a peddler. The bicycle, she hoped, would also be her ticket to fame and fortune. For a woman of that era to leave her husband and young children was unimaginable; to do so to bicycle the world was utterly radical.

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