Mrs. F.M. Cossitt, the first woman to ride a bicycle in New York – 1888 (Photo from Simply Grove blog)
by Heather Harris Brady
Dateline October 20 1895: The most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman
In the late 1800’s two forces developed simultaneously, bicycle engineering and the women’s suffrage movement.
“I began to feel that myself plus the bicycle equaled myself plus the world, upon whose spinning-wheel we must all learn to ride, or fall into the sluiceways of oblivion and despair.” – Frances Willard
Frances Willard, founding member of the WCTU, took up the sport at the age of 53 in Evanston IL. But it caught the fancy of young women as well.
On June 25, 1894, Latvian immigrant Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, a young mother of three small children, stood before a crowd of 500 friends, family, suffragists and curious onlookers at the Massachusetts State House. Then, declaring she would circle the world, she climbed onto a 42-pound Columbia bicycle and took off. Fifteen months later (October 20 1895) one New York newspaper called it “the most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman.” See her route here. (Source)
The trip was reportedly set in motion by a wager that required Annie not only to circle the earth by bicycle in 15 months, but to earn $5,000 en route, as well. This was no mere test of a woman’s physical endurance and mental fortitude; it was a test of a woman’s ability to fend for herself in the world. While Annie died in obscurity, a documentary about her extraordinary stroke debuted in April 2013. During her trip she adopted clothing more suitable to riding, including men’s attire and bloomers.
As we know, this was not always well-received! In Norwich, New York in 1895, a group of young men pledged not to associate with any woman in bloomers and to use “all honorable means to render such costumes unpopular in the community where I reside.” (Link, bottom page)
Susan B. Anthony told the New York World’s Nellie Bly that bicycling had “done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”
by Heather Harris-Brady
Like a surprising number of Michigan women, Sarah Emma Edmonds (Flint) played an active combat role in the Civil War. Women were drawn into service through various ways – sometimes they would enter with a husband, brother or boyfriend; sometimes for the higher pay rate; and sometimes just because they felt it was their patriotic duty.
Sarah/Frank Thompson went in as a nurse April 25, 1861, volunteering for spy duties when a call went out from McClellan’s command. After some intense study she aced the interview and won the position. She used various disguises and completed 11 spying missions behind enemy lines in all.
Women who did not take part in combat supported the effort in other ways, raising funds for the soldier’s provisions and medical care through Sanitary Fairs.