Annie Londonderry

– the first woman to go around the world on a bicycle

Interview with Carlton Reid

I always think one of the best things about writing is the research you get to do; justified hours upon the laptop, with Google as your best friend. Screenplays are focused on visual writing especially and since I wasn’t alive in the 1890s when Annie Londonderry traveled around the world, I often take to the internet looking for visual tidbit and historic antidotes to inspire me.

I came upon Carlton Reid’s website, RoadsWereNotBuiltForCars, and was lost in the abundance of history and photos from Annie’s day –  a period of time, I’ll now refer to as the “Bicycle Boom” as Reid calls it.  I like to think of Annie Londonderry as being part of a Boom.  Reid has a new ebook coming out this summer and I really look forward to it.

Interview with Carlton Reid:

You seem very immersed in the cycling world. When did you first become interested in cycling?

CR:  I’ve been writing about bicycles for 25+ years. I got a job on a consumer bicycle magazine when I was still at universitLy (studying comparative religion, the course wasn’t very taxing). I became the de facto editor of that mag within months and have never stopped writing about bicycles since. From about the second year of writing about bikes I was given a contract to produce a trade mag and that’s what I’ve been doing since, for a variety of owners and also producing my own trade titles. I created and sold a few years back and am an executive editor on that title and also edit a consumer-focused website for the Bicycle Association. This is called and has a navigation app called Bike Hub which I brought into existence. More background here.

What made you focus on the period called “The Bicycling Boom” and is that your term or historic?

CR:  The bicycle boom years – roughly the mid 1890s – have always fascinated me. We think of cycling as a minority activity now; back then it was very much the mainstream, and cyclists were highly influential. For instance, in the 1896 US presidential campaign only one lobby group had its own room in the Republican party HQ, and that was the League of American Wheelmen.

Of course, I have to ask, did you come across Annie Londonderry in your research? 

CR:  For sure, although I guess Nellie Bly is better known. I like ‘Annie’s’ story partly because of her Jewish background. I studied Judaism at university, lived in Israel for a bit, and wrote the Berlitz Guide to Israel way back when.

Being an “expert” of that time, can you speak to the role women played in cycling and vice versa? What role cycling played in changing the social and political landscape for women?

CR:  There are now a whole slew of books that feature this important topic, such as the new Bella Bathurst book and an earlier one from UK author Jim McGurn. The famous Susan B Anthony quotesays it all really. My book has a woman on the cover (this is an 1890s painting) but, from what I can gather, women didn’t play a huge role in the Good Roads movement. It was very male-centric.

Your book focuses on ways cycling paved the way for roads and autos. Is this mostly figuratively or physically? Can you share a little sneak peek of some of the points covered in the book?

CR:  Both. Without the 30 years of lobbying by cyclists, the early motorists wouldn’t have had the good roads they inherited. In the 1920s, Ford and others said it was the early motorists who created good roads. Not true. Cyclists got there first, as my blog – and the book – explains at length.

What kind of research did you have to do to write the book?

CR:  It’s mostly been web and book research so far but I’m in the US next week, visiting places that were key to the topic I’m researching and that’s the influence cyclists had on the creation of better roads, in the US and the UK. Before Detroit became the Motor Town (in fact, it’s the reason it became Motown), Detroit was a hot bed of cycle activism, with many leaders – such as Horatio Earle and Edward Hines – living in the Detroit area. Those two pioneers were cyclists but helped lay the foundations for the US highway network.

I see you have a sponsorship that allows you to offer the eBook for free. Annie Londonderry was all about sponsorship and it seems like it plays a really important role in the cycling community now, at least in racing. Can you speak a little bit about how that first developed and what role sponsorship plays in the cycling publishing community today?

CR:  Wow. How long’s a piece of string?! My business model is free distribution, paid for by advertising. This is a trade mag model and has a long history. By publishing my book for free online and via iPads and so on, I get massive numbers of readers compared to books with pricetags. For instance, my Bike to Work Book has had 500,000+ reads and downloads; a paid for cycle commuting book would be doing very well to sell 10,000 or so.

You can see a sneak peak of “Roads Were Not Built for Cars” here and the best part, the eBook will be free. If you’re a cycling fan or even just a history buff, I encourage you to check out his website but be prepared to get lost in it for hours.



Apparently in 1895,  bloomers were quite the topic of the Ann Arbor Register in 1895; family quarrels, women arrested.  I found these wonderful little “Bloomer Clippings” at the website, Logiston.

I particularly like the “The Frightfully Awful Dilemma of a Chicago Bicyclist” article as Annie was in Chicago that year and if it wasn’t for “blonde ringlets” I would say it sounds just like something she would do. Go girl power!

May 11th, 2004 | Bloomers
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Mrs. Noya, the first female cyclist to appear on the streets of Little Rock, Ark., clad in bloomers, was arrested by the police under an ordinance against “indecent apparel.” The bloomers were of the conventional style.

July 18th, 2004 | Bloomers
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The Frightfully Awful Dilemma of a Chicago Bicyclist

Guests of the Stamford hotel, on Michigan avenue, were horrified Sunday at an accident to a young lady which occurred right in front of that famous hostelry, which has become a kind of headquarters for those bicyclists who make use of the magnificent South side boulevards, says the Chicago Tribune. At about 4 o’clock in the afternoon a very dashing girl, with a little cap set jauntily upon her blonde ringlets, came speeding down the avenue. She was dressed in a very natty blouse and the latest style of riding bloomers, which reached well down toward the ankle. Just as she reached the hotel one of the bloomer legs caught in between the chain and sprocket of the machine and in an instant, going at the scorching pace she was, the entire bloomer was stripped off her shapely right limb. The spectators were for a moment paralyzed at the extent of this catastrophe, and two or three young ladies who were just about to mount their wheels blushed as red as a rainy sunset, but the dashing damsel was equal to the emergency. With a dextrous hand she disengaged herself from the mangled bloomers and stood before her admiring and astonished audience arrayed in an extremely becoming pair of black tights and trunks to match. Thrusting the bloomers into her blouse, she vaulted lightly on her wheel and the next moment was vanishing southward over the hard roadway at a two-minute gait.


Annie Londonderry depicted in a newspaper in 1895, wearing bloomers.

October 17th, 2005 | Bloomers
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Mrs. John Quill and her husband quarreled at Eaton, O., over the question whether or not their daughter should wear bloomers. The Quills are old people, wealthy, and have a large family of grown-up children. Quill is 75 years old and very feeble, but he advocated bloomers. They quarreled viciously, and finally Mrs. Quill attempted to pull out her husband’s whiskers. Not succeeding, she cut them off. The fight was so bitter that both the old people are under a physician’s care, and it is feared Mrs. Quill will become insane.

May 24th, 2005 | Bloomers
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The question of bloomers has assumed a new form at the Michigan University at Ann Arbor. Miss Edna Day, a pretty junior literary student, appreciates their superiority over skirts and wore them until her landlady told her she would have to don her skirts while in the house. Miss Day has complied. When outside the jurisdiction of the boarding house keeper, however, Miss Day will appear as of yore. She is an enthusiastic bicycle rider, and thinks that such a dress is much more sensible and comfortable to wear on rainy days an during sloppy weather than muddy skirts. The wives of several professors also favor them and her instructors have commended her upon the stand she has taken.

“A Foolish Little Maid”

The May issue of the Saint Paul Daily Globe in 1897 carried this illustration of a female cyclist encountering a cable car:

There was a little maid,
And she had a little wheel.
In front of cable cars she loved to roam, roam, roam.
But like a stupid dunce
She slipped her pedal once
And lugged her bike in pieces to her home, home, home.

The press obviously did not think much of women cycling in Annie Londonderry’s day.

“Wheels of Change”

As feminist pioneer Susan B. Anthony said in 1896 to Nellie Bly (the woman that inspired Annie Londonderry)

The bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.

This is a nice little video from the documentary, “Victorian Cycles – Wheels of Change,” produced and directed by Jim Kellett that expands on that quote.  More clips from the documentary can be seen here.

One must also check out Sue Macy’s book, “Wheels of Change”.  She has some wonderful links to other sources for cycling history in the 1890s on her website as well.

It’s All Fun and Games ’til Someone Gets Hurt

I love Retronaut – always filled with amazing historical tidbits.  This post on a serious topic, cycling safety, does take a hilarious turn when it’s information is from a 1940s safety brochure.

Obviously, women were seen as a bit spacey – sky gazers to be exact – when cycling.



For some great current cycling safety tips check out some of these websites:

Bicycle Safe

Kids Health

Defensive Cycling

Sierra Club


Cycling The Freedom Trail

Map of the “Underground Railroad” from Wilbur H. Siebert, The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom, The Macmillan Company, 1898

For a country founded on the principles of freedom, many had to unjustly battle to gain theirs in the United States. Annie Londonderry’s cycling trip helped with the women’s suffrage movement back in 1894 and now people can cycle another “freedom trail,” The Underground Railroad.

This month the Adventure Cycling Association revealed a new map section for their 2,000-mile Underground Railroad Bicycle Route (UGRR) created five years ago. You can read the full press release here.

Running through many smaller communities in northwestern Ohio, southern Michigan, and southern Ontario, the Detroit Alternate creates a cultural heritage corridor that not only offers education and recreational opportunities for people of all ages, but also promises increased tourism to the communities along this iconic corridor.

According to Jenn Milyko, cartographer, the Detroit Alternate will create numerous options for wonderful one and two week loop rides.

Highlighted stops along the Detroit Alternate include:

  • The Oberlin downtown historic district, Oberlin College, and the Oberlin Heritage Center, which showcases the abolitionist and UGRR history of the community.
  • In Adrian, Michigan, visit the Lenawee County Historical Museum, which houses thousands of documents relating to the UGRR, and the Laura Haviland Statue (100 E. Church St.).
  • In Detroit, cyclists can explore the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the largest museum in the world dedicated to the struggles and perseverance of African Americans, the Historical First Congregational Church, also known as The Living Museum, which offers the Underground Railroad Flight to Freedom Program Tours, a “storytelling” simulation of a slave’s journey to freedom, and the Gateway to Freedom Monument at Hart Plaza on the Detroit Riverfront, which marks the crossing of thousands of freedom seekers into Canada.
  • A partner monument in Windsor, Ontario, is visible across the river. Known as the Tower of Freedom Underground Railroad Monument, this sculpture depicts the refugee’s arrival into Canada and their overwhelming emotion upon encountering freedom.
  • In Chatham, Ontario, visit the First Baptist Church Chatham where American abolitionist John Brown held the last in a series of clandestine meetings to plan his “slave rebellion. At the Chatham Kent Black Historical Society you can experience a self-guided exhibit containing numerous artifacts, an audio-visual presentation, and an interactive display honoring black residents.
  • Cycling on to Dresden, Ontario, you can visit the Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site/Josiah Henson House, which was the home of Rev. Josiah Henson and houses exhibits, period buildings, and an interpretive center. Rev. Henson, a fugitive slave who found freedom in Ontario in 1830 via the Underground Railroad, established the Dawn Settlement. Henson’s experiences were the reference for the title character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
  • Between Sombra and Owen Sound, there are only a few historic landmarks, however cyclists can enjoy the beautiful Lake Huron waterfront for many of these miles. The historic highlights along this stretch include the Wilberforce Settlement Plaque found at the Lucan post office, which commemorates the establishment of the settlement in 1830 by a group of fugitive slaves with the assistance of Quakers from Oberlin, Ohio.
  • In Owen Sound, be sure to visit the Grey Roots Museum and Archives, and its exhibit, FromSlavery to Freedom, African Canadians in Grey County. Established in 1856, the BME Church (241 11 St. W.) served the needs of former slaves arriving on the Underground Railroad and parishioners are considered the founders of the Annual Emancipation Day Celebration, which is held the first weekend in August each year. In August 2012, the celebration marks its 150th Anniversary, making an attractive end-date for cyclists touring the new alternate or the main Underground Railroad route, which also terminates in Owen Sound.

NPR did an interview with a group of cyclists that completed the 2,100 miles along the Underground Railroad from Mobile, Ala., to Ontario, Canada. The tour was six weeks long and the average age of participant was sixty, proving one is never to old for adventure!

You can listen to the audio of the interview below:

There is also a nice article from the National Parks Conservation Association about a group of students making the trip.

Women and Sport with a Focus on Cycling

Connie Carpenter Phinney won the first Gold Medal in cycling at the 1984 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles. She raced for the USA.


Last week in Los Angeles, Pat McQuaid, the President of the International Cycling Union (UCI), made a speech at the 5th World Conference on Women and Sport.  I included some excerpts from his speech below that discuss the positive influence sports have on women and the history of cycling as a sport in the Oympics.

“Women are challenged by many barriers based on prejudice – not only within a political, economic and social framework but equally within the local, national and international sports environment. This is particularly true for endurance sports which have at times in history, including in modern history, been considered too difficult or even harmful for women. The heritage of these stereotypes has been damaging to the advancement of women and it has deeply affected decades of coverage by sport media, decisions of sport organizations, access to education and the participation of girls and women in recreational and competitive sport.

The benefits of sport for women, as a physical activity, as a source of empowerment and integration, are undeniable. Sport provides access to leadership roles, to employment, to social networks and it encourages tolerance.

In short sport stands for our core values and is closely tied to democratic and human rights.”

“Women’s cycling was introduced into the Olympic program in Road Cycling at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984. This is 94 years after Road Cycling for Men – which were part of the very first modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens.

Since 1984 women’s cycling has taken off significantly and clearly the introduction to the Games marked a turning point. It gave women exposure on an international scale and conveyed a clear signal to the wider cycling community. Road racing was followed by the introduction of Track Cycling for women in the 1988 Olympics, Mountain Bike for men and women in 1996, BMX for men and women in 2008 and in 2009 UCI took a decision to have gender equity throughout our Olympic programme so this means that in 2012 at last there will be an equal number of medals in cycling for men and for women.”

“Sport is an essential part of our social fabric – of course as important to men as to women. This is not an altruistic consideration. Women make almost 80% of consumer purchases and represent a resounding economic force, women are more than half the population of the world and in cycling women are pioneers of change.

We have therefore an important task ahead of us. I am pleased to see so many men and women here today because the issues we are discussing today concern us all. I would venture to say that the men in this room have a huge challenge.

Many of our sports institutions are male dominated and the involvement of men in defying unequal power relations is absolutely essential. What we decide and do today will affect young people’s lives and aspirations for decades to come. Sport is about bringing value and improving the lives of everyday people all over the world and if that means making some changes, I would like to think we will meet the moment.

To quote a thinker who has had no small affect on changing the world: Albert Einstein who put it quite simply when he said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, even if riding a bicycle is somewhat easier than moving forward with change, let us keep up the momentum so that we get our balance right.”

You can download Pat McQuaid’s entire speech at the International Cycling Union (UCI) website and this Wikipedia entry has a list of all the female cylists that have won medals in the Olympics since they began competing.

I think we can all say it is pretty shocking it took 94 years for women to participate in a sport that was introduced to the Olympics in 1896.  Annie Londonderry was traveling around the world on a bicycle that year and I think she would pretty ashamed of the International Olympic Committee dragging their heels . She would be proud an American won the first Olympic Gold Metal I will dare say.


Annie Londonderry on Pinterest

We’ve been finding lots of exciting pictures to put on our Pinterest page. Please check it out and follow us if you are a member of the Pinterest community. We would love to follow your cycling board so let us know about it in the comments below.


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