NELLIE BLY, renowned investigative journalist, embarked on a journey around the globe beginning on Nov. 14, 1889, inspired by the fictional Phileas Fogg’s 80-day odyssey. Voyage oriented songs form John’s soundtrack on Crosscurrents, Monday Nov. 14th at 8:00 AM. Listen live at www.KRNN.org, 102.7fm, or 103.1fm.
Nellie Bly was a nationally significant journalist at the New York World. She was a pioneer in investigative journalism. Her reporting introduced readers to the horrors of insane asylums and to international travel.
On Nov. 14, 1889, two female journalists, Nellie Bly of The New York World and Elizabeth Bisland of Cosmopolitan magazine, left New York to begin a trip around the world. The 25-year-old Bly had conceived of the idea after reading Jules Verne’s book “Around the World in 80 Days,” and Cosmopolitan decided to raise the stakes by sending Bisland to challenge her.
As reported in the next day’s New York Times, Bly boarded a steamship sailing toward England, while Bisland set off in the opposite direction, heading to San Francisco, where she would board a ship for Japan. Both women intended to complete their journeys in 75 days, besting Jules Verne’s character Phileas Fogg by five days.
American journalist Nellie Bly, born Elizabeth Jane Cochran, is arguably best known today for spending ten days in a “mad-house,” an early example of investigative journalism that exposed the cruelties experienced by those living in the insane asylum on New York’s Blackwell’s Island. Bly was a journalism pioneer, not just for women, but for all reporters. But in 1889, another one of her projects attracted even more attention: a trip around the world by train, steamship, rickshaw, horse and donkey, all accomplished in 72 days.
Bly’s goal was to beat the fictional Phileas Fogg’s 80-day odyssey, as written in the 1873 novel by Jules Verne, but her courage and determination helped her circumnavigate the globe in just 72 days, setting a world record, besting her own goal of 75 days and—unbeknownst to her—beating out her competitor, Elizabeth Bisland of Cosmopolitan magazine.
Though at the conclusion of her journey, on January 25, 1890, Bly was greeted at a New Jersey train station by a crowd of cheering supporters, her editor at Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World initially resisted sending her. He told her that her gender would make the trip impossible. “No one but a man can do this,” he told her. “Very well,” she replied, “Start the man, and I’ll start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him.” He eventually conceded.
Bly used numerous forms of transportation — including a ship, train, rickshaw, sampan, horse and donkey—in her travels through Europe, Egypt, modern-day Sri Lanka, Singapore and Hong Kong. She sent accounts of her journey to the New York World, which resulted in a large increase in readership. Bly even went out of her way to meet with Verne in Amiens, France, where the author wished her good luck.
Nellie Bly was celebrated as she traveled on her final leg through America, returning on Jan. 25, 1890 to New York, 72 days after she left. “Every one who read newspapers followed her progress and she landed in New York a national character,” The New York Times reported in her obituary. Meanwhile, Bisland was still traveling. She finished four days later than Bly.