The publication of Following Nellie Bly: Her Record-Breaking Race Around the World by Pen and Sword is set for 31 March 2021. Available for pre-order here.
It’s the tale of intrepid journalist Nellie Bly and her race through a ‘man’s world’ — alone and literally with just the clothes on her back — to beat the fictional record set by Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days. She won the race in 72 days on 25 January 1890 and became a global celebrity.
I set off 125 years later to retrace Nellie Bly’s footsteps in an expedition registered with the Royal Geographical Society. Through the recreation of that epic global journey, I aim to bring to life Nellie Bly’s remarkable achievements and shine the light on one of the world’s greatest female adventurers … and a forgotten heroine of history. Please join Nellie and me on our global journeys in the pages of Following Nellie Bly. Pre-order here.
It’s now 131 years since crusading journalist Nellie Bly raced through a ‘man’s world’ — alone and literally with the clothes on her back — to beat the fictional record set by Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days. She won the race on 25 January 1890 and became a global celebrity.
We both travelled alone with one small case. She went by ocean liner and train. I flew. She raced, I didn’t. She covered 21,740 miles in 72 days; I completed 22,500 miles in 32 days.
She journeyed through the Victorian age, dashing conventions along the way. I travelled through the Information age, blogging along the way. She started from New York. I started from London. We both finished with book-length memories and a profound appreciation for the kindness shown to us everywhere we went.
To this day, she is one of the world’s top 10 female adventurers.
Nellie is best known for her record-breaking journey, but even more importantly she pioneered investigative journalism. Her stories brought about sweeping reforms in asylums, sweatshops, orphanages and prisons. She burst into male-only newsrooms paving the way for women reporters. She was the first journalist to report from the Eastern front in WWI.
I followed in Nellie Bly’s footsteps because I want to put her ‘back on the front page.’
I travelled 6 September – 8 October 2014 — by air because sea travel is limited by the routes available and hostilities occurring in some locations. Which is why I named the blog ‘Nellie Bly in the Sky.’
I was back in time for the 125th anniversary of the start of her world race on 14 November 1889 and her triumphant return to New York on 25 January 1890.
Please read the blog posts at the right to follow in the footsteps of Nellie Bly.
Two trailblazing female journalists in the UK and USA laid in obscurity for decades despite their outstanding achievements in the last century. Now their legacies are being honoured in a newly-restored gravesite for Rachel Beer (1857-1927), the first woman to edit a British newspaper, two in fact; and a memorial installation for Nellie Bly (1864-1922), the pioneer of investigative journalism.
Until recently, Rachel Beer’s headstone failed to note her remarkable career as editor of both The Sunday Times and The Observer at the end of the twentieth century. Her neglected marker in the Tunbridge Wells Municipal cemetery defined this convention-busting journalist only as the daughter of David Sassoon. Thanks to a campaign led by esteemed journalist Ann Treneman and funding from The Observer and The Sunday Times, Rachel Beer’s monumental role is now engraved on a marker on her newly-restored grave.
Across the ocean in America, fellow newspaper legend Nellie Bly laid in an unmarked ‘pauper’s’ grave for 56 years until 1978 when the New York Press Club erected a headstone calling her a ‘famous reporter.’ But like Beer’s former epitaph, it is a considerable understatement. A memorial installation paying tribute to her accomplishments is now planned for New York City near the site where investigative journalism was born when Nellie Bly went undercover to expose atrocities inside the women’s insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island, now Roosevelt Island. Her accounts, later compiled in a book called Ten Days in a Mad-House, brought about massive reforms.
Although I most admire Bly for her investigative journalism, she is best known for racing around the world in 72 days in 1889-90 – alone with just a Gladstone bag – to beat Phileas Fogg’s fictional 80-day record in Jules Verne’s renowned book. To pay tribute to her, I followed in Nellie Bly’s global footsteps 125 years later. At the end of the journey, I made a pilgrimage to her grave in New York City’s Woodlawn Cemetery where I learned that like Beer, she laid in obscurity for decades.
A chapter of my forthcoming book Following Nellie Bly: Her Record-Breaking Race Around the World is devoted to visiting her modest grave. But my next visit to New York will lead me to her memorial designed by artist and sculptor Amanda Matthews of Prometheus Art in Lexington, Kentucky. More than 130 years after her break-through exposés of the asylum, Nellie Bly is returning to Roosevelt Island in a memorial that will celebrate her legacy as a journalist and a humanitarian.
A version of this post first appeared on the Women in Journalism website.
Magazine of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)
As told to Katie Burton; Published in I’m a Geographer 03 Jul 2020
Rosemary Brown is a freelance journalist. In 2014, she followed in the footsteps of American journalist and adventurer Nellie Bly, who carried out a record-breaking 72-day trip around the world in 1889. A book about Rosemary’s trip is due out next year.
‘Last year, two of my lifelong dreams came true. One was to write a book, and the other was to get a Churchill Fellowship. The book is about my trip in the footsteps of Nellie Bly. I maybe didn’t do as much research in advance as I should have, but I’ve learned since that it’s better to get going than to get lost in the research. I did spend some time at the British Library, reading the microfiche newspaper accounts of her trip from the New York World newspaper. My eyes have never been the same.
I’ve always admired these Victorian explorers. I used to read about Gertrude Bell, Freya Stark, Isabella Bird, Mary Kingsley (they have her hat at the Royal Geographical Society). So they’d always intrigued me. My daughter was 19 at the time, and she won’t like me saying this, but I didn’t really approve of her role models. I just thought, look at what these amazing women were doing, when they couldn’t really do it. It was a man’s world then. Truly.
Nellie Bly redefined the role of women in journalism. In 1889, she set off on a 72-day trip around the world, which inspired Rosemary to trace the journey herself. She chronicles her experiences in her upcoming book.
And so I wanted to do something to put Nellie Bly on the map, and to put female explorers back on the map – the ones from the past and the ones now who just don’t get the same coverage. I thought, I’m not going to rant about it. I’m just going to try to do something.
These women just busted convention. Nellie Bly burst into an all-male newsroom, and she wasn’t welcome, but she excelled. And when she said, ‘I want to go around the world to see if I can go faster than Phileas Fogg’, [the protagonist of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days] they said, ‘No we’re going to let a man go’. And she said, ‘Very well. You send a man. I’m going to the competing newspaper and let’s see who wins.’
So she and I clicked. She was an adventurer. She was a journalist. She pioneered investigative journalism. If she wanted to do it, she just did it. And this is what I think we aren’t doing so much anymore. We seem to be afraid to get out of our comfort zones.
The experience was really great. It’s not the way I like to travel. I don’t like to just go from one place to the other, so that part was quite frustrating. But I had to let Nellie take over. Don’t think I’m bananas, but there were a couple of times when I think she might have helped me. I got stuck in a typhoon in Hong Kong as I was trying to get into China – she went to Canton, which is now Guangzhou. So I thought, what would Nellie Bly do? I just walked down into the typhoon and believe it or not, the trains were running even though Hong Kong was shut down.
Canton, now known as Guangzhou, was one of the places that Nellie Bly visited during her 1889-90 expedition around the world – a trip that would inspire Rosemary Brown to write her upcoming book.
Photo: Royal Geographical Society Archives, Ato Photographic Association
People help you all along the way. And that’s one of the things I say – she believed in humanity. Her colleagues said, if you’re going on this trip, you’ve got to take a revolver. And she said, ‘I don’t believe I’m going to need one’. She didn’t take the camera either which was a drag – there are no pictures.
I thought once I got back and finished up the blog, that would be it. But oh no, Nellie Bly was not through with me. I’ve been able to do talks and we put together the Heritage of Women in Exploration conference – which I believe is the first conference like that ever held at the Royal Geographical Society. I’m also a founding trustee of the Women’s Adventure Expo – a hub for women adventurers. It’s really just about letting people know what women have done and what they’re doing now. If you do what you always do, you get what you always got, so it’s about just getting out there, seeing the horizon.
One of my favourite sayings is ‘leap and the net will arrive’. I’m not leaping so much anymore. But I think if you put yourself out there, things happen.’
1954: Born in Toronto
1976–1983: Journalist for the Lakeland Ledger and the Tampa Tribune
1983: Journalism masters
1986–1989: Lived and worked with homeless women in Soho at the House of St Barnabas
2003–2017: Chair of the board at The Rights Practice
2004–2017: Communications manager at NGOs including The Rainforest Foundation
2013: Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro
2014: Nellie Bly trip
2019: Churchill Fellowship for work with refugees
2021: Release of Following Nellie Bly: Her Record-Breaking Race Around the World
Originally printed in Geographical, the monthly print magazine of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).
In the Centenary Year of Women’s Suffrage, Women’s Adventure Expo is celebrating female explorers and adventurers — past and present — in a special event at the Royal Geographical Society in London on 21 June 2018.
The Heritage of Women in Exploration pays tribute to women who, like the Suffragettes, demanded equality, left inhibition at home and journeyed through a man’s world to realise their dreams ; along with today’s women who continue to ‘push the boundaries’ through exploration and adventure.
Nellie Bly’s achievements will be shared along with those of other historical women like Victorian nurse Kate Marsden (1859 – 1931) who trudged thousands of miles across Russia braving sub-zero temperatures in search of a cure for leprosy; and pioneering archaeologists like Gertrude Bell. As well as today’s adventurers like British polar explorer Felicity Aston MBE, the first woman to ski alone across Antarctica who now leads teams of women from around the world on polar expeditions.
“We want to place female explorers and adventurers ‘on the map’ and celebrate their achievements, many of which have been lost to history,” said Tania Hughes, co-founder of Women’s Adventure Expo. “We are saluting their courage and resolve, and promoting them as inspirational role models for all.”
With inspirational characters, archive footage and travel accounts of courageous women, the daytime conference will shine the light on the lives of women explorers in a series of short talks and films delivered by modern explorers and historians. In the evening WAE will present Felicity Aston on ‘Women in the Polar Regions – history through to the present day’.
Tickets are available here
While conducting research for a novel set in the late 1800s, Shonna Slayton, an author for young adults, came across the story of Nellie Bly’s solo trip around the world in 1889 and was amazed. She dug a little deeper and discovered there was another woman reporter, Elizabeth Bisland, who raced against her. Now she was doubly intrigued. She just had to retell their tale. The result is her new novel out now in both print and ebook, Liz and Nellie.
Shonna kindly agreed to treat us to a guest blog for ‘Nellie Bly in the Sky’. You can read more about Shonna and her other novels below in the author’s bio.
When did you first learn about Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland?
Nellie Bly’s name popped up while I was conducting research for another novel. I was fascinated to learn of a young reporter going around the world, unchaperoned, in the Victorian era. I had never heard of her before.
After reading her account, I found out that the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine was reading about Nellie Bly’s trip that morning on his way to work. He thought the New York World newspaper made a mistake sending her east. So he called in one of his writers, Elizabeth Bisland, and asked her to race Nellie, boarding a train headed west that night.
My imagination was lit. I wanted to get their forgotten story out there to more people. Thus my obsession with Liz and Nellie began.
Many people already know who Nellie Bly was, but who was Elizabeth Bisland?
Elizabeth Bisland was also a reporter. She freelanced for a number of newspapers, including the same paper as Nellie Bly, but at the time of their race, Bisland was working for Cosmopolitan magazine, primarily as their book reviewer, though she did write other types of articles.
Which reporter do you relate to the most?
In temperament I most closely relate to Elizabeth Bisland. She did not call attention to herself the way Bly seemed to, rather she diligently went about her work, even when she felt out of her element.
However, I admire Nellie Bly for her courage and her insightfulness. Often she wrote about the marginalized in society, writing about them so others would see them. She was quite an inspiration.
Why did you write this book for teens?
Most books about Nellie Bly are written either for children or adults, but Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland are wonderful examples for teens. They did big things when they were young. They helped open paths for women. They were agents of change. All the buzzwords we toss at teens nowadays for how they should think and act, these ladies were doing back in the 1800s. They were bold. They were daring. They made a difference. And they were real people!
You normally write stories with a fairy-tale twist. Were you tempted to put magic into this story?
The story of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland didn’t need any embellishing. I used their actual words as much as possible, as obtained from their newspaper and magazine articles. The text is more literary than how I normally write, reflecting the conventions of the 1800s. I tried to modernize the text somewhat, to draw in today’s audience, and I toned down Elizabeth Bisland’s highfalutin’ vocabulary.
Of all the places they went on their trip, do you have a favorite?
One of my favorite scenes is when Nellie Bly makes a detour to meet Jules Verne at his house in France. She is curious about him as a fellow writer, and she is curious about what he thinks of her taking on his fictional character. He is quite charming and goes out of his way to make Nellie feel special.
Liz and Nellie was a lot of fun to put together. My characters always feel real to me, but in this case they truly are real. I hope readers enjoy meeting these historical figures as much as I have.
Shonna Slayton writes historical fairy tales for Entangled TEEN. Cinderella’s Dress and Cinderella’s Shoes, set in the 1940s are out now. Spindle, a Sleeping Beauty inspired tale set in the late 1800s, will be out October 2016.
She finds inspiration in reading vintage diaries written by teens, who despite using different slang, sound a lot like teenagers today. When not writing, Shonna enjoys amaretto lattes and spending time with her husband and children in Arizona.
The best way to keep in touch is by signing up for her monthly newsletter. She sends out behind-the-scenes info you can’t read anywhere else. Sign up is on the sidebar of her website Shonna Slayton.
Sunday 13 March, 11.30 a.m. SOUTHBANK CENTRE, London
As part of the Women of the World Festival 2016, I am inviting women to ignite their own adventurous spirits through the journeys of women explorers — past and present — who defied convention, pushed limits and travelled into the unknown.
In this era of shrinking comfort zones and glitzy role models, I’ll be celebrating women adventurers — women who take a walk on the wild side and explore the world. I’ll be paying tribute to those before us who left inhibition at home and journeyed through a man’s world on awe-inspiring voyages; as well as today’s ‘adventuresses’ who challenge themselves on foot, bikes, skis; in boats, vans, planes…in the true spirit of adventure.
The stories of yesterday’s women adventurers are often lost in time — let’s get them ‘back on the map’ as role models for women in the 21st century — Women of the World like Lady Hester Stanhope, the first Western woman to cross the Syrian Desert; writer and explorer Mary Kingsley; and of course, crusading journalist Nellie Bly who beat Phileas Fogg’s fictional Around the World in 80 Days record 125 years ago.
Today’s women adventurers are not only rowing around Britain (Belinda Kirk), skiing alone across Antarctica (Felicity Aston MBE), and reaching the North and South Poles (Ann Daniels), but also following the footsteps of their predecessors like Isabella Bird, Mary Kingsley and Isabel Godin (Jacki Hill-Murphy), to name but a few. Female explorers are true Women of the World. Join me for a 15 minute WOW Bite on women explorers Sunday 13 March at 11.30 a.m. at the Women of the World Festival.
Nellie Bly beat her own world record on 5 May 2015 when she ‘raced’ around the world in 24 hours. In 1890 Nellie set the record for circling the globe – 72 days by ship and train. 125 years later she sped through cyberspace, adorning the Google homepage as a Google Doodle across continents and countries including the USA, France, Africa, India and Australia.
It was Google’s way of paying tribute to the intrepid journalist/adventurer/humanitarian on the occasion of her 151st birthday. Watch it here.
Nellie was trending all day on twitter in the USA on 5 May, according to Brooke Kroeger, Nellie Bly biographer. An estimated 3.5 billion internet users were exposed to the achievements of the famous reporter through the Google Doodle.
Liat Ben-Rafael, Google Doodle progam manager said: “Throughout her life and career, Nellie Bly spoke up for the underprivileged, the helpless and minorities, and defied society’s expectations for women. So when it came time to honour Nellie with a Doodle, we wanted to make it special.”
Google’s celebrated doodle features a 1.21 min animation and an original song “Oh Nellie.” Written and performed by indie rocker Karen O, lead singer of the USA-based Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, the song formed the basis of the dynamic animation by Katie Wu. The lyrics encourage females ‘to stand up and show us what girls are good for.’
The doodle applauds Nellie’s iconic global voyage and honours her as a reporter who pioneered investigative journalism and burst into male-dominated newsrooms.
“Oh, Nellie, take us all around the world and break those rules ’cause you’re our girl,” the lyrics proclaim. “We wanna make something of ourselves too. Oh Nellie you showed us just what you would do.”
Says Google’s Liat Ben Rafael: “Back in the 19th century, Nellie fearlessly showed a generation of people “what girls are good for.” …We hope Nellie inspires women and girls everywhere to follow in her footsteps and show the world what they can do.”
Nellie’s 151st birthday google doodle is reported as showcasing two firsts. “Oh Nellie” was the first original song commissioned for a google doodle and Katy Wu’s ‘cartoon’ was the first to feature stop-motion animation.
All images used here are courtesy of Google.
Nellie Bly’s Historic Race Around The World Being Developed For Television
By Anita Busch
This article is courtesy of Deadline.com: http://deadline.com/2015/03/nellie-bly-eighty-days-book-television-series-1201384763/
It’s the best of journalism meets The Amazing Race meets Around the World in Eighty Days. Phileas Fogg, move aside. One of the most daring stories in history is that of investigative journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochrane (aka Nellie Bly) who in 1889 decided she would try to beat the fictional record in Jules Verne’s now classic story and go around the world less than 80 days. At the same time, because competition is the name of the game in journalism, Cosmopolitan sent their own reporter Elizabeth Bisland, out to beat not only the 80-day fictional Phileas Fogg record but also try to one-up Bly who was working for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World newspaper.
Now that story, based on Matthew Goodman’s bestselling book, “Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World” is being developed for television by Zero Gravity Management’s Christine Holder and Mark Holder with producer Lloyd Levin (Boogie Nights, United 93, Watchmen) and Beatriz Levin.
“We are developing it as a limited show and talking to creators now,” said Zero Gravity’s Marc Holder. “After that, we’ll go to talent. People have tried to explore her story from her days undercover at a woman’s insane asylum, but not many people have tried to delve into this particular story. Goodman just did such a wonderful job with this book. They are both courageous women and this story is really inspiring.”
The race started on November 14, 1889 and each reporter left from New York, but went the opposite way around the world. The story grabbed headlines at the time and enthralled readers who were kept on the edge of the seats as each reporter filed stories about their dramatic and sometimes dangerous adventures. The race spanned over 24,000 miles using railroads and steamships as their main mode of transportation.
Beyond captivating the nation, the lives of both the well-respected journalist Bly and her competitor Bisland were forever changed by the journey. Bly ended up winning the race by four and a half days and set a world record. She had circumnavigated the globe in 72 days.
Nellie Bly is ‘back on the front page’ as a chart-topper in the historical, convention-busting, inspiring and feminist leagues.
“No one but a man can do this,” Nellie Bly’s editor told her when she suggested travelling round the world in less than 80 days. She would need a protector, he said – and how would she ever carry all the luggage a lady would need on such a trip? Bly didn’t worry too much about the first quibble, and travelled light, crushing all her belongings into a single handbag. She made it home in 72 days. That wasn’t the first time the pioneering American journalist had attracted attention through her work – a year earlier, in 1887, she faked madness to go undercover in an asylum, exposing its poor conditions and abusive staff.” Here’s the entire list of 10 Best Feminists
In 10 Books About Innovative Women You Should Know More About, Kathleen Culliton names Nellie Bly: Daredevil. Reporter.Feminist by Brooke Kroeger. This is what she says on online site Bustle:
“Here’s what I love about stories of women who innovate: they’re two stories. First you’ve got the story of the brilliant idea, or the world-changing artifact, the traveling of the globe, the charting of the star, the rallying of the people. Then, you’ve got the story of how the hell a woman got people to listen to her in the first place. These are stories not just of human beings who were crazy-smart, but women who were as tough as nails… Journalist Nellie Bly faked insanity to get committed in an asylum. She reported on its atrocities as she experienced them. When that was done, she circled the globe.”
Brooke Kroeger wrote this book because she could not find a single reliable source that accurately captured the story of Nellie Bly. Instead of a credible biography, she found brief encyclopedia entries and children’s books. And she was baffled because Bly not only had a major impact on journalism, but a fascinating life. In an age that relegated women reporters to the ‘Homes and Gardens’ section of the newspaper, Bly faked her own insanity to gain admission into and report on one of the nation’s most notorious insane asylums and effectively invented stunt journalism.”
Here’s the full list of 10 Books about Inspirational Women You Should Know More About.
Online worldwide news site Buzzfeed named Nellie Bly as one of the Top 12 Historical Women Who Didn’t Give a ‘you know what’.
“Nellie Bly was a daring and influential investigative journalist who wrote groundbreaking stories about political corruption and poverty. She once faked madness in order to report undercover from an abusive mental institution in New York City, which led to outcry and reform. Her jealous peers referred to her investigations as “stunt reporting”, but Nellie, of course, didn’t give a x*!x*! about those whiny little x*!x*! Oh, and she once travelled around the world in a record-breaking 72 days, just ‘cause. Here’s the post.
She was named among the top 7 of inspiring ‘convention-breaking‘ women by Mother Nature Network who said:
Nellie Bly was an investigative journalist who went undercover in a mental hospital to secure a job at a newspaper when she moved to New York City. She wrote about her experience spending 10 days in a mental ward: “What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment? I would like the expert physicians who are condemning me for my action, which has proven their ability, to take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would make her a mental and physical wreck.”
Following that blockbuster story, Bly circled the world in 72 days in imitation of Jules Verne’s book, married a millionaire, ran his steel manufacturing company after he died, and developed a number of patents for her business. She covered the suffragist movement in an article titled “Suffragists Are Men’s Superiors” in 1913 but correctly predicted women wouldn’t get the vote until 1920.
See full post here.