Long before the television show “Amazing Race”, two women set out on a race around the world in November 1889. The first to conceive the idea was a young female reporter for the New York World, a newspaper owned by Joseph Pulitzer. In 1864, she was born Elizabeth Jane Cochran (or Cochrane), later changing her “pen name” to Nellie Bly.
The idea for the race came from Jules Vernes’ book “Around the World in Eighty Days”. Nellie Bly, an investigative reporter for The World, was sure she could make it around the world in only seventy-five days. Of course, a young woman traveling around the world alone in those days was unheard of, but she convinced her boss that she was the right person for the job.
She set out on November 14, 1889 on a ship headed across the Atlantic. Unbeknownst to her, The Cosmopolitan had decided to send one of their own to race against Nellie. Later that same day, Elizabeth Bisland set out by train heading the opposite direction, choosing to begin her trip by crossing America by train and sailing to the Orient first.
Nellie was determined to travel lightly and carried only a small satchel (gripsack). She commissioned her tailor to make a sort of “all-purpose” dress for the trip. Both women faced obstacles on the first leg of their trips. Nellie endured rough seas and seasickness, while Elizabeth was at the mercy of train schedules. A conductor on one leg of Elizabeth’s train trip west was determined to get the young lady to her destination on time. He pushed the limits of train speed so much that at one point one side of the train was lifted in the air, wheels off the track!
The book is interlaced with historical background relating to events of that period of history, including history and culture of the lands that both women visited during their journeys. Some chapters did seem to spend more time on those aspects rather than the actual race story, so for some that may seem a bit tedious.
As each continued with her individual journey, she faced various obstacles with ship and train schedules and weather. Along the way they stopped at exotic places and met other travelers on whatever form of transportation they were employing at the time (ship or train).
The race was followed enthusiastically by their fellow Americans back home. The World conducted a contest for guessing the exact time Nellie Bly would return. The winner would receive a trip to Europe – of course, the rule was that you had to fill out your entries with the “official” form printed in The World. The World’s circulation numbers soared.
In the epilogue at the end of the book, the author, Matthew Goodman, summarizes the lives of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland after the race. You might be surprised to find out just how it all turned out for each woman… not quite what you would expect!
I enjoyed the book and learned a lot of history surrounding the race and that period of history (skimmed through some of the background parts though!). If you’re interested in history from the late 19th century, then you will enjoy reading this account of an “amazing race”.
Be sure and stop by for tomorrow’s article when I begin a new rotating Friday series called “Feisty Females“.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.