Women are merely inching forward in the race toward income parity, according to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) recent report on the Global Gender Gap. At the rate we’re going, bbc.com says it could be another 118 years for women to reach the “finish” line.
It has been 126 years since Nellie Bly challenged Jules Verne’s fictional record around the world and Elizabeth Bisland, in turn, challenged Nellie Bly. Was it economic parity that ultimately urged Bisland to launch on their famed race?
According to Elizabeth Bisland’s book, In Seven Stages: A Flying Trip Around the World, she was not in the least bit amused by an early morning messenger sent by John Brisben Walker, her editor from Cosmopolitan Magazine. After a brief walk to the Cosmopolitan office, she attended what would become the most important meeting of her career.
Bisland had already read the headline that morning in Pulitzer’s New York World newspaper that announced Nellie Bly’s departure on her race. With Cosmopolitan magazine only three years old and still floundering, Brisben Walker smelled a fantastic opportunity for publicity in that headline.
He would send a woman on a westward course around the world, thereby challenging Nellie Bly and more importantly, the New York World Newspaper. He had calculated that the contestant taking a westward course at that time of year would have a distinct advantage over anyone taking an eastward course due to head winds and other weather related issues.
Until that moment, Elizabeth Bisland lived by the strictly proper rules of Victorian Etiquette and the social mores of the time. Proper ladies, for example, did not travel without an escort. Her name would only appear in a newspaper upon her birth, her marriage and her death. She would never travel without an appropriate wardrobe which would require a minimum of several steamer trunks.
Bisland outlined in her book an additional list of personal reasons for opposing her editor’s proposal:
“To begin with, I didn’t wish to. In the second place, guests were coming to my house to tea on the following day; thirdly, I was not prepared in the matter of appropriate garments for such an abrupt departure, and lastly, but most weightily, I foresaw the notoriety that an effort to outdo the feat of Jules Verne’s hero was likely to bring upon me, and to this notoriety I most earnestly objected. Though for some years I had been more or less connected with journalism, I had appeared in the papers only as the contributor of unsigned articles…”
With so many objections, why in the world did she jump on the experimental train heading west mere hours after Nellie Bly set sail? In Bisland’s own words:
“The editor and I having passed the better part of an hour going over this matter, substantial arguments were finally advanced by him which persuaded me to make the experiment of lowering the circumnavigatory record.”
According to one newspaper report, Brisben Walker offered Elizabeth Bisland a full time position with a salary of $3,000 per year, guaranteed for two years. He would also cover any lost income she might have made from writing during the race. That was a lot of money in 1889!
Was it the money? Did her editor threaten to block her articles? Was she enticed by Nellie Bly’s public vow to leave New York forever if she failed to win her race? Is it also possible that Elizabeth Bisland loved the attention she claimed to abhor?
As with so many historical accounts, we can only guess at the personal motives behind them. We at Racing Nellie Bly think Elizabeth Bisland overcame her personal fears and jumped on the mail train for all the above reasons.
The money was enticing, but in our fictional script and games that are based on these true events, we explore the idea that Elizabeth Bisland was most excited by the thought that she just might be rid of Nellie Bly for good. After all, that Bly woman was changing life as everyone knew it by breaking all the rules. Ironically, on November 14, 1889, Elizabeth Bisland did exactly the same thing.
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