Thinking about trailblazing moms

Sherry Farrell

Sunday was so beautiful. I got Alexa to play my favorite song in the world, “Lovely Day.” If you get a chance to listen to it, maybe it will make you smile, too.

This week, one unexpected phone call made my day a “Lovely Day.”

Polly Racicot who lived in the Derry/Londonderry area for 48 years recently moved to Windham.

Polly is New Hampshire through and through! Polly called first to tell me that she really enjoys our stories together and that she had a great idea for a story.

I told Polly I was a little worried about what to write about this week and then my phone rang. Polly said to me, “Sherry, that happens. The well can run dry.”

That’s what was happening to me! With your help, though, the new stories never seem to run dry.

We have so much to talk about and you are all great listeners. As I’m typing to you, I can hear my voice telling you the story. I hope you can hear my voice as you are reading.

Polly told me her daughter watches a show called "Mysteries at the Museum" on the Travel Channel and it is now available on many other streaming outlets like the Discovery Channel.

How did I not know about this or not watch this before?

I’m not sure what has happened to television but there is nothing on. We used to have 10 channels and there was always something to look forward to watching as a family. Now we have hundreds, even thousands, of channels and we struggle to find something to watch. 

Polly told me about an episode that was all about Annie Kopchovsky, better known as "Annie Londonderry," who rode her bike across the world way back in 1894.

Annie wanted to change the world and the way the world thought of women as being inferior to men.

Things are getting better each day but as the mom of two strong daughters, we're still not 100% there.

Annie wanted to do something so unprecedented during that time period to prove that women are equal to men. Ruth Bader Ginsberg would have loved her! The New York Times wrote that her journey symbolized the start of women’s independence.

Saturday night after dinner at Bart’s and watching the Kentucky Derby, I asked John to find the show for us. (On a side note, the Kentucky Derby did not have a female jockey until 1970. Diane Crump was the first.)

We learned that "Mysteries at the Museum" started back in 2010 and didn’t end until 2019 — 24 seasons and over 300 episodes!

Each show has four quick little mysteries of interest. I love that they are not too long and drawn out. You can watch 10 minutes and learn something new.

But back to Annie.

Until Anne came along only one man had dared make a bike trip around the world. That’s why she took this on as her challenge. This part of the show opened with a closeup of our Londonderry Historical Society, and it mentioned that we were the first place to grow potatoes in the U.S.A.

It told the story and showed beautiful pictures of our little piece of the world. John and I were so proud. This episode started out by telling us that the 1890s turned out to be life-changing for women. The bicycle, typewriter and camera were invented, which transformed lives.

There were pictures of Annie on the show, too.

Anne was from Boston and became a United States citizen when she was just 5 years old.

She was from Latvia. Her parents died young, and she became responsible for her younger siblings.

She married and had three children when this wager from a Harvard student may have been made. Long story short, if she could make it around the world peddling a bike as the first woman she would earn $5,000. A group of men had made a wager that she probably could not. Annie proved them wrong.

When I first heard this story, I naturally assumed she had been an avid bike rider and a very strong single woman. As it turned out when she started her journey on a Columbia bike, it was only her third time ever riding a bike.

She was a small woman, about 5-foot-3 and 100 pounds. She had to leave her family behind to undertake the challenge.

I believe she did it for her family, to make their lives easier and to lift women up all around the country.

Things were going well until the weather turned stormy outside of Chicago.

At that point, she turned in her traditional heavy woman’s dress of the time for a pair of “bloomers” pants for women. This caused quite a stir.

Another bike company, Sterling Cycle Works, created a bike for her from a man’s model that was just 21 pounds. Her original bike was 42 pounds.

She also had to come up with a way to pay for her journey. She began looking for advertisers.

The Lithia Spring Water Company of Londonderry offered her $100 to attach a sign for their company to the spokes of her bike. Some described her as a “rolling billboard.” They also said that to get the sponsorship from them she would need to call herself Annie Londonderry so she did. Reports say she was an amazing storyteller and mesmerized audiences along the way.

Against all odds, Annie did it. She was a trailblazer! She left three children and her husband behind to try and make a better life for them and generations to come. A true trailblazer, as I believe all mothers and women are.

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and it’s not just a Hallmark holiday. It’s a day to remember all women and thank them for the lives they have touched.

Special love and hugs to all the new moms out there who need our support. Check in on them and let them know you are here to help or lend an ear.

Remember those moms who may have lost children or those who could not have children — they are the real unsung heroes.

No matter what, children are the love of a mother's life.

I find myself saying this a lot lately. John completely understands.

Sherry Farrell is the Londonderry Town Clerk and a longtime resident of New Hampshire.

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