Nelly Bly: The Crazy Woman Who Traveled The World In 72 Days

Nellie Brie
A fictional animated character, Nellie Brie, in the Disney film was inspired by Nelly Bly.

You all know of Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s adventure novel, Around the World in 80 Days‘, which was published in 1873. The man in the story was a French journalist who circumnavigated the world in eighty days. The fictional world record fired up the female correspondent from New York to take on the challenge herself.

Named Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, Nellie Bly was the American journalist who broke the record of travelling across the globe in 72 days following the fictional character, Phileas Fogg, in Jules Verne’s adventure novel. She worked as an investigative journalist and wrote by the name Nellie Bly. She inspired the creation of a fictional character, Nellie Brie, in a sequel of the famous children’s animated film, An American Tail. Christina Ricci played her character in a movie about her life as an undercover mental patient.

Her writing career began when she wrote a response to the article on the Pittsburgh Dispatch. This newspaper column was known to present debasing ideas about women. Elizabeth argued against these claims in her article. She wrote anonymously under the pen name, “Little Orphan Girl”. The editor took notice of her passion and skill. He published an ad asking the unnamed author to reveal her identity.

The “Little Orphan Girl” was given the opportunity to write a piece for the same newspaper. Her first article was titled “The Girl Puzzle” and it talked about how divorce affected women. In this article, Elizabeth contended in making reforms on divorce laws. Her editor was greatly impressed and offered her a full-time job. Her editor gave her the pen name, Nelly Bly, which was inspired by the famous Stephen Foster song.

As a correspondent of the Pittsburgh Dispatch, Nelly primarily wrote about the lives of working women. She made investigative reports on women working in factory workers which led to the newspaper receiving plenty of complaints about her writing. She was reassigned to write on women’s pages. Unsatisfied with her assignment, she travelled to Mexico as a foreign correspondent where she began reporting about the lives of the Mexican people and criticizing the government. Her quandary troubled the Mexican authorities causing them to throw back to her homeland.

Nelly Bly Travel the World Board Game published on The World in January 26,1890.
NELLY BLY board game. Published in The World in January 26, 1890 | Source:

Burdened with the limits of her role in the Pittsburgh Dispatch, she left the company in 1877 and moved to New York City. She was without a job for four months until she arrived at the door to Joseph Pulitzer’s office of the New York World. The company took her in and gave her an undercover assignment. She had to fake out insanity and investigate the reported abuses at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell Island. She spent ten days in the asylum where she experienced the rumoured wretched treatments herself. Her reports were published in a book which brought her lasting fame.

The zenith of her career was in November 14, 1889 when she left the shores of New York City boarding the Hamburg America Line. She was set on a course to travel around the world in 80 days empowered to break the fictional record in the famous adventure novel.

Bly’s editors at the New York World carefully monitored reports of her trip. They even created a guessing game to keep people’s interest in the story. The readers were made to guess the time of Bly’s arrival. The winners were awarded a free trip to Europe and a cash prize.

A board game about Nelly Bly’s trip was published in The World on January 26, 1890. It was 3:51 pm the day before when Nelly Bly returned from her trip around the world.


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