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Nelly Bly

Author Heather Tomasello (read by Rita Smith)
Air Date 1/25/2001

Nelly Bly Transcript

On this day in 1889 Nellie Bly, a twenty-five year old reporter for The New York World received a hero’s welcome in Jersey City. A crowd of over 300 gathered to greet her, cannons boomed, and timekeepers stopped their watches. Nellie Bly had made history by becoming the first person ever to circumnavigate the globe in less than 80 days. Actually, she’d done it in 72 days, six hours, and fourteen seconds to be exact, beating Phileas Fogg’s fictitious record by nearly a week.

When Jules Verne published Around the World in 80 Days in 1873 innovations like the transcontinental railroad across America and the Suez Canal made such a trip technically feasible. However, no man and certainly no woman had ever attempted it. In that day, if a person had to travel around the world, he was lucky to do so in less than a year.

Several biographies for children offer insight into the courageous young reporter who set out on the trip in an age when women did not work for newspapers and they simply did not travel without a chaperone. Kathy Lynn Emerson in Making Headlines describes the opposition Nellie faced in even proposing the journey. The business manager of her paper said that a woman wouldn’t be up to the task, they should send a man. Undaunted, Bly responded: If you do, I’ll leave at the same time and race against him. The paper relented.

Nellie Bly Reporter for the World by Martha E. Kendall documents Nellie’s adventures throughout her travels, among them meeting Jules Verne, taming a monkey, and declining two marriage proposals. The book includes photographs and the newspaper accounts, as well as advertisements featuring the world traveler, like one which reads, “O Fogg good bye, said Nellie Bly. It takes a maiden to be spry, to span the space twixt thought and act and turn a fiction to a fact. ”

Older children will enjoy the PBS online feature of Nellie Bly that is part of The American Experience website. The site has excerpts from Nellie’s own account of her remarkable journey and an interactive world map showing each of her stops and journal accounts. It also features a sound clip of the Stephen Foster song from which the reporter took her pen name.

When Bly returned victoriously her paper crowed that, “The Stagecoach days are ended, the New Age of lightning travel begun.” And today, through the Internet, children can make that journey around the world with Nellie Bly just that quickly.

Posted in Authors, Literature