November 14, 1889. Nellie Bly raced the fictional record around the world. It was a time when solo female travelers were still considered inappropriate by many. But Bly was a Rule Breaker and a trendsetter. She was the stunt journalist who barged into Pulitzer’s offices at the New York World Newspaper with ideas for stories he could not resist. She became a top selling writer with her first-person stories. When she thought she needed to top her own ideas, Nellie Bly raced around the world.
Her stories had everything we want in social media today: relevance, reach and resonance. She went undercover, wore disguises, faked accents and sometimes told lies. She did what was necessary to get her story. On this day in 1889, Nellie Bly also became a trailblazer.
Nellie Bly “held her breath until she turned blue” in the offices of her editors. She had been routinely writing front-page articles that had caused readership to surge. With her fan base growing, Bly was always searching for new ideas to top her own records. Restless and wanting something bigger, she had an idea that she believed would grip audiences around the world.
A huge fan of Jules Verne, Bly jumped on an idea that was trending in the later Victorian Era. People were fascinated with the idea of circumnavigating the globe. They did it in yachts, on bicycles and Jules Verne’s character Phileas Fogg did it in a hot air balloon in Around the World In Eighty Days.
Nellie Bly was told that a woman could not travel alone. It was considered both unsafe and impractical given that a proper lady had to travel with several wardrobe trunks. After nearly a year of much resistance from the men in her newsroom, Nellie Bly was finally sent on her mission – alone, with one small satchel that was smaller than today’s carry-ons.
Nellie Bly faced issues that were in some ways not so different from what women face today. How did she succeed? In her article, 11 Steps to Break Out The Worldly Woman Warrior In You, Laurel J. Delaney outlines a roadmap that reads like a playbook for Nellie Bly.
Bly believed that the world is filled with people who will tell you what you can’t do and what you should not try, but she would not listen. She could have written these words in 1889 when she was told that a woman should not travel alone and should not have her name in print.
Let’s start with Delaney’s #1 Break a Rule, Bad Girl.
“Why do bad girls finish first? They act free, take on challenges and break rules. They take on the world! If you don’t, it’s over. Constantly learn and change, be persuasive, dare to be different, have extraordinary stamina and never stop imagining possibilities. The bad girl mantra is “if you can imagine it, you can do it.”
Delaney, who teaches an MBA International Marketing course at Loyola University Chicago, outlines other steps that Nellie Bly followed 125 years ago including:
#9 Don’t Sit on the Sidelines — Feel Good About Yourself and Get Out There. How can you possibly conquer the world if you don’t feel good about yourself?
#10 Relish Risk. One good girl’s timidity is another bad girl’s big win, but that victory will not come unless a calculated risk is involved.
#11 Thrive [or Die], You Bad Girl! Create your own opportunities. Explore and make your deepest BIG dreams become a reality. Even if you lack support, embrace who you are… go out there and unfold your destiny that flows from character and live a life filled with surprises.
Nellie Bly was a sensation during and after her trip. She had broken the “glass ceiling,” thereby proving to the world that anything was possible.
With only two days’ notice, Nellie Bly boarded the Augusta Victoria of the Hamburg America Line at the Hoboken New Jersey Harbor at 9:40 a.m. on November 14, 1889, to start her 24,899-mile journey.
One of the greatest footnotes in Victorian Era history and one of the most intriguing Victorian Secrets, is that Elizabeth Bisland of Cosmopolitan Magazine launched in the opposite direction that evening to challenge Nellie Bly. Why did she do it?
Bisland, a proper lady of the Victorian Era, did not believe in front page bylines for women. She also claimed she was appalled by the thought of traveling at high speed rather than taking time to truly enjoy and appreciate new places. She considered it grotesque and undignified, and yet, she did it. What persuaded her to change her mind? In her 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.”
For whatever reason, Elizabeth Bisland was on an experimental mail train heading on a westward course mere hours after Nellie Bly set sail on an eastward course.
Over the next 75 days, we will be posting tweets and blogs from the road as Bisland and Bly compete for the world speed record around the world.
Racing Nellie Bly
Victorian Secrets From Footnotes In History
Know The Past To Invent The Future