Annie Londonderry

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

Archive for the category “history”

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.

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