Woman Wanderer: Nellie Bly, foreign correspondent
Welcome to the Women Wanderers series! After realizing I didn’t know of any women I wanted to be like when I grew up, I decided to start learning the names of the badass female explorers who came before me. Catch up on the series' backstory here and January's Woman Wanderer Sylvia Earle here.
How many times have you been told you can’t do something because you’re a girl? I still remember taunts from schoolyard peers and sharp corrections from family members, reminders received (if not really understood) about what I should be like—of how I should behave.
I’m one of the lucky ones, of course, not having basic things denied from me based on my gender. And I know my list of memories shrinks compared to the harsh examples many others face.
When researching journalist, explorer and author Nellie Bly, though, I couldn’t help but wonder how many times people tried to remind her of how girls and women are “supposed” to be.
Bly lived from 1864-1922, a time when the ideas of what women should be formed a REALLY long list. But, this didn’t stop her from travelling the world and capturing her experiences in books, as a website dedicated to her life explains.
[Images: Top image via Pintrest, above image via the newseum website.]
Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran, she moved to New York after growing up in rural Pennsylvania, working as a journalist for major papers in both Pittsburg and New York.
At 21, Bly got tired of working the fashion and lifestyle beat (which was typically the space reserved for women writers).
She decided to become a foreign correspondent, smashing the glass ceiling by heading to Mexico to cover the country’s ravaging poverty under a dictator regime.
The articles she wrote for the Pittsburg Dispatch would eventually become Six Months in Mexico, a book of vignettes of the poverty and gambling addictions she witnessed as daily life. [Oh, and for those interested, you can read the book online, too.]
“One can hardly believe that Americanism is separated [from Mexico] only by a stream. If they were thousands of miles apart they could not be more unalike,” she begins of her time in Mexico City.
She views her new surroundings through the unfortunate lens of her era (she packed a sense of american superiority that makes some passages very cringe-inducing), so I’ll admit she’s far from perfect.
But if her Mexico adventures don’t ignite a sense of wanderlust in you, her next great story idea will.
Ever heard of the book Around the World in 80 Days? When Bly came to New York, she decided to see how accurate it was—and had the New York World send her on a timed trip around the globe.
She started on a steam ship across the Atlantic, took a train across mainland Asia, and returned to New York a breezy 72 days later, having travelled mostly alone and mostly on public transit.
While on her journey, she’d send quick telegrams to her editor about the places and people she was witnessing. These progress reports were often printed in the paper as audiences waited to see if Bly would really make it.
And she did, beating another New York journalist on the same mission by a handful of days. For a time, Bly held the world record for fastest trip around the globe.
Her articles, a book, then films and card games [see pintrest image, above right] captured the adventure.
It’s said she bought an entire case of champagne on her arrival in New York, celebrating from the World’s office floor.
I hope she toasted herself, for being her own kind of woman—and a wandering one, at that.