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In 1873 writer Jules Verne captivated the literary world with his novel, “Around The World In 80 Days”. Sixteen years later two young women set off in a real life race of their own. You may have heard of one of them: Nellie Bly. She was an intrepid reporter for Joseph Pulitzer’s “The World” newspaper. Chances are you haven’t heard of the other. Her name was Elizabeth Bisland. She worked as journalist with “The Cosmopolitan” magazine. In a new book author Mathew Goodman recreates their daring 28,000mile race against time and each other. He joins us to talk about these women and their era.
- Matthew Goodman Author of "The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists."
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from EIGHTY DAYS: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World Copyright © 2013 Matthew Goodman. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In 1889, two young female journalists embarked on a race around the world against time and each other. In a new book, writer Matthew Goodman details their global adventures of more than a century ago. The book is titled "Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World." Matthew Goodman joins me in the studio. And throughout the hour, we'll take your calls, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And good morning to you, sir.
MR. MATTHEW GOODMANGood morning, Diane. Thanks so much for having me.
REHMWell, it's good to have you here. It's an interesting story. Jules Verne had a lot to do with the trips that these women took. Help us understand how it all began.
GOODMANWell, at the time, Jules Verne was perhaps the most famous novelist in the entire world. And his most popular novel had come out a few years earlier in 1873 entitled "Around the World in Eighty Days" in which he speculated that it might be possible through his fictional character Phileas Fogg to indeed go around the world in 80 days, which was something that no one had ever done before. Phileas Fogg said that he could do it. He had calculated mathematically and it became an enormously popular book and led to a good degree of speculation about whether or not such a thing was indeed possible, or whether it was simply in the realm of fiction.
GOODMANAnd it was 16 years later in 1889, when a young reporter for the World Newspaper, Joseph Pulitzer's widely read newspaper in New York, Nellie Bly decided that she was going to do it. That she was going to try to go around the world by herself in less than 80 days, that she was going to try to beat in real life the fictional record set by Phileas Fogg.
REHMAnd of course Nellie Bly was not her real name.
GOODMANThat's correct. Her real name was Elizabeth Cochrane. She had been born in western Pennsylvania. She came from coal country in Pennsylvania. She was a remarkable journalist. She was a journalist unlike any female journalist New York had ever seen before. No one had ever seen a journalist who was so audacious, who was so willing to risk her personal security in pursuit of a story.
GOODMANYou know, Diane, this was a time when most women were relegated -- most female journalists were relegated to the women's page of the newspaper where they were forced to, you know, discuss only gossip or shopping and recipes and child rearing and so forth. Nelly Bly adamantly refused to do that.
REHMHow old was she at the time?
GOODMANWell, she claimed she was 22. She was in fact 25 but still quite young. She was an undercover investigator for Porter -- for Pulitzer. You know, in her very first story for the World a few years earlier. She had feigned madness. She had pretended to be insane in order to get herself committed to the Blackwells Island Lunatic Asylum so that she could endure firsthand the horrible conditions suffered by the female patients there.
REHMAnd what happened as a result of her story?
GOODMANRight. Well, she -- this was very courageous in fact because, you know, once she was in there was no guarantee that she was ever going to get back out. And it really took all of Joseph Pulitzer's doing to get her back out after ten days. She wrote a series of articles exposing the horrible conditions in the Blackwells island Asylum, which led to a reform of the conditions inside that asylum. That was the kind of story that Bly did.
GOODMANYou know, she pretended to be the wife of a pharmaceuticals maker to expose a corrupt lobbyist in Albany, N.Y. She pretended to be a young mother to see if she could sell her baby on the black market. She went to a medical dispensary for the poor where she narrowly escaped having her perfectly healthy tonsils removed. She was really an amazing reporter but then she decided -- this is now in 1888 -- that she wanted to go around the world.
REHMTell me why and how you got involved in this story.
GOODMANWell, I live in Brooklyn, N.Y. not far from the site of what used to be called the Nellie Bly Amusement Park. And so I knew the name Nellie Bly...
GOODMANIt was called the Nellie Bly Amusement Park, so I knew her as the name sake of this park. And I knew she was a journalist but I didn't know much else about her. And then when I was looking around for another book topic, I found a reference to her and I investigated further. I'd wanted to write my next book about a female main character, and I discovered that she had done all these amazing things and that she had indeed decided to go around the world.
REHMIt was her idea.
GOODMANIt was her idea. It was her idea and she fought for it for a year. Because, of course, the male editors of the World said, you can't go. Only a man can do this. This was a time when male editors didn't like their female journalists to go across the city unchaperoned, much less around the world. But Bly fought for it, and in fact she said, very well. Send a man and I will go for another paper and I will beat him.
GOODMANSo finally a year later when the world's circulation began to go down a bit and they were looking for a boost of publicity, they called up Bly -- or they sent for Bly and they said, you can do it. So that in itself was amazing, I thought. But then when I researched the story further I discovered something even more astonishing, which was that Nellie Bly had set out on November 14, 1889 to go around the world. But she wasn't racing only against the calendar or against this fictional character Phileas Fogg. That on that very same day another young female journalist, for a rival publication by the name of Elizabeth Bisland, had set out going in the opposite direction.
REHMOkay. Now I want to stop you there because had Nellie Bly's journey around the world been heavily publicized before she left, so that's why the other newspaper wanted to get into it too?
GOODMANRight. Well, what happened was that the morning that Bly left -- she left on very short notice -- and the morning that she left the world trumpeted her departure on the front page.
REHMBut they hadn't done so before?
GOODMANNo. She only knew a few days earlier that they were going to...that they were...
GOODMAN...and she had spend a few days getting ready and so forth. So that morning -- the World was a morning paper and that morning they announced on the front page, Nellie Bly to challenge Phileas Fogg going around the world. Well, the publisher of a rival publication, The Cosmopolitan magazine, which later was bought by William Randolph Hearst and became Cosmopolitan or Cosmo magazine. But at the time it was a very high-toned magazine.
GOODMANA man named John Brisben Walker immediately understood the publicity value in this game. He was on a ferry from New Jersey to New York. And when he got to his office he said, we're going to send our own reporter to challenge Nellie Bly. It has to be a young woman. Who is it going to be? And he sent for his literary editor, a woman by the name of Elizabeth Bisland, who was this very erudite, gentile literary poet from Louisiana who was living in New York, and he sent for her.
GOODMANAnd she arrived at his office that morning and he bade her a cordial good morning and he said, now I would like you to be on a train this evening heading for San Francisco at 6:00. And from San Francisco I would then like you to proceed all the way around the world. And I would like you to do it, if at all possible, faster than anyone has ever gone around the world before.
REHMBut she knew by this time that Nellie Bly had already left?
GOODMANWell, she hadn't seen it in the morning paper so in fact she did not know.
REHMOh, she had not.
GOODMANShe only found out about it at that moment. Now she said to Brisben Walker, absolutely not. I will not do that. You know, she said, I have people coming for dinner. I have nothing to wear. But, you know, he was a very persuasive fellow and he convinced her to do it. The real reason, as she admitted later, that she didn't want to do it was not those reasons. The real reason was that she was a very serious writer. She was very literary. She cherished her anonymity. She was not interested in celebrity.
GOODMANAnd she understood -- she was very bright and she understood immediately the kind of sensation that this would cause. And she was not interested in that, in that kind of celebrity, unlike Nellie Bly who sought out celebrity. And in fact, when Bisland returned to New York after the race around the world, she wrote that she wished to live her life in such a way that her name would never again appear in a newspaper headline.
REHMAnd it practically was exactly that way. My guest today is Matthew Goodman. His new book is titled "Eighty Days: Nellie (sic) and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World." Do join us, 800-433-8850. It's fascinating to me that Nellie Bly herself did not realize she was in a race until about a month later.
GOODMANThat's exactly right. Of course, she set out that morning believing that her only competitor was this fictional character. She, of course, had no idea that Elizabeth Bisland was setting out. By the way, Elizabeth Bisland was going in the opposite direction.
GOODMANNellie Bly was going east. She was setting out by steamship across the Atlantic for England. Elizabeth Bisland was going west by New York Central Railroad to San Francisco.
REHMAnd then from San Francisco...
GOODMANAnd then from San Francisco to Yokohama, Japan by steamship, because Brisben Walker believed that because of the prevailing winds over the South China Sea...
REHMThat would be quicker.
GOODMAN...that would be quicker to go west. So, of course, as a writer I was captivated by the notion of these two young women racing in opposite directions around the world. Nellie Bly did not find out about Elizabeth Bisland until she arrived at Hong Kong, until she was halfway through the trip when she got to the ticket office of the steamship company. And the man said to her, you're going to lose your race. And Nellie Bly said, I don't think so. I'm ahead of schedule. And the man said, well the other woman was just here a few days ago. She's ahead of you. And Nellie Bly said, what other woman? And they informed her about Elizabeth Bisland and she was none too pleased.
REHMAll right. We'll take a short break here. I do invite you to join this conversation. Call us for your questions for Matthew Goodman, author of "Eighty Days." Stay with us.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Matthew Goodman is with me. He has authored two other non-fiction books. His latest is titled "Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World." Matthew, read for us, if you would.
GOODMANSure. This is a section from Elizabeth Bisland's railroad trip across the western part of the county. She talks herself onto a fast mail train out of Chicago heading for San Francisco. There's a $750,000 contract riding on their getting to San Francisco faster than has ever been done before. She's the only woman on the train. Everyone else on the train are either railroad officials or postal officials. So I'll just read a very brief section. They're in the Utah mountains and they have to get to the next town on time and a new engineer has come aboard by the name of Cyclone Bill Downing, who is blessed or cursed with apparent lack of all fear.
GOODMAN"At precisely 12:55 a.m. Cyclone Bill pulled out the throttle and the train lurched into motion. Using every pound of steam the engine could handle, the train climbed the eastern slope of the Wasatch Mountain Range, it's speed increasing as it near the summit, where it paused momentarily and then, with a stomach-lurching plunge, began its race downhill. The train careened wildly around the mountain passes, swept across plateaus, shot through tunnel after tunnel, going faster and faster. Still, the engineer did not ease up on the throttle.
GOODMAN"The local superintendent for the railway mail service, James E. White, tried to joke that Downing was straightening out all the curves on the line, but there was no laughter in the car. Someone murmured that it would be a terrible thing to run off the track. No one said anything to that. Derailments happened more often than anyone in the car cared to think about, and particularly at high rates of speed. And isolated mountain pass late at night, it didn't need saying, would be the worst possible place to derail. To Elizabeth Bisland the train felt like a runaway horse.
GOODMAN"One of the reporters compared it to some insane monster striving to free himself. Its roar reverberated like a cannonade off the rocky sides of the canyon. At Devil's Gate where the track was not as crooked, the train seemed impossible to pick up speed. The car rocked side to side like a ship in a storm and some of the passengers actually became seasick, turning in their urgency to the nearby cuspidors. The warm crowded car took on an unpleasant aroma. One man began writhe on the floor in terror and was handed a flask of brandy to calm himself.
GOODMANFrom the rear platform of the car, the passengers could see a shower of sparks trailing behind them. The tracks looked two lines of fire in the night. The telegraph poles, Bisland wrote, reel backward from our course and the land fled from under us with horrible nightmare weirdness. She was not sick, but she could feel her nerves beginning to give way."
REHMMatthew, my heart is pounding.
GOODMANJust like the passengers. You know, this is...
GOODMAN...a work of history. I mean, everything in it is true. I didn't imagine any of the events. All of the dialog in the book is taken from a historical source, like a journal or a newspaper account. But at the same time, it's a work of narrative history. I wanted it to have all of the vividness, the emotional...
REHMAnd the feel, of course.
GOODMAN...impact, the feel of a novel so that a reader picking up the book at a random point might not know if they were looking at a work of history or a novel. You know, I wanted the reader to not just know what happens on the trip, but to feel what it was like to be carried on a rickshaw through the streets of Hong Kong or barreling like this through the mountains of Utah.
REHMAnd Nellie Bly did not have a much easier time. She got massively seasick on the trip to England.
GOODMANShe did. She had never been on a ship before. Neither one of these women had ever been out of the country before, neither of them had ever been on an ocean liner before and crossing the North Atlantic Nellie Bly got horribly seasick. She was sick for a couple of days. You know, it's interesting, she hadn't told anybody what her purpose was on this trip. And rumors began to circulate about who she was. She was one of the few Americans on board. And the rumor began to go around that she was a rich American heiress. And what happened was that a number of single men became interested in her and she was proposed marriage to seven times on the course of this trip.
GOODMANAll of which, needless to say, she said no to. She eventually "confided" in someone that she was not a rich American heiress, that she was a charity case, that two charitable organizations had raised money for her to go on a long trip because of her health. And the proposals stopped after that.
REHMNow, she actually met Jules Verne in France.
GOODMANShe did. She was very excited to do this. She arrived. She met the World's correspondent in England and was informed that if she traveled overnight and didn't sleep and made a detour, she could meet Jules Verne at his estate in Amnion, France.
REHMDid he know she was coming?
GOODMANYes, he did. That had been set up by the World. And of course she was delighted to do it. She didn't care that she was going to be up for 48 straight hours. That was the way that she was.
GOODMANShe was, you know, very determined, scrappy, ambitious and was in awe of Jules Verne. Jules Verne was this, you know, immense literary historical figure at that time. So she goes to his estate and she meets Jules Verne and his wife, Honorine, who are absolutely charmed by Nellie Bly. She was a charming person. And they had a perfectly wonderful time. It was one of my favorite scenes, writing this book, where they go upstairs and he shows her the actual map of the world that he had plotted out Phileas Fogg's route. It's, you know, to figure that out. And Nellie Bly couldn't believe that he had plotted her route, as well, to show where it was the same and different.
GOODMANAnd he says to her, if you make it in 79 days I shall clap with both hands.
REHMOh, how wonderful.
GOODMANAnd when she arrived back in San Francisco, he and his wife sent a telegram congratulating her. He was very, very supportive of her.
REHMNow, does Elizabeth Bisland know that Nellie Bly has met with Jules Verne?
GOODMANShe does not.
REHMShe does not.
GOODMANNo. She is going off on her own and, you know, at the time, of course, they were sending back reports of their progress via the telegram. The telegram was kind of the internet of its time. It was this new invention. It had only been invented a few years before. And it really, you know, it blew people's minds that you could be in Hong Kong and send a message back to New York that would get there in five minutes. Because up to that point, you would have to have sent a letter and it would take weeks and weeks and so forth. So this was a new technology that they were using.
REHMWas Nellie Bly and was Elizabeth Bisland, were they both sending detailed reports of their whereabouts, what they were experiencing...
REHM...and so on?
GOODMANThat's a very good question. They were sending very brief reports by telegram. I have arrived in Brendisi, Italy. I'm on schedule. The ship will be leaving tomorrow morning and so forth. But the longer reports, they couldn't send by telegram so...
GOODMAN...they sent by letter.
REHMOh, I see.
GOODMANSo, for instance, the readers of the world would be getting delayed reports. So would maybe two or three weeks later.
GOODMANNow, what the World did, the World was brilliant about this. The World was the most widely read newspaper of its time. Joseph Pulitzer was a genius at gaining publicity. And what the World figured out shortly into Bly's trip was that they could get immense amounts of publicity by sponsoring what they called the Nellie Bly Guessing Match. What they did was they offered a free trip to Europe to the reader who could guess closest to the second Nellie Bly's final arrival...
GOODMAN...time in New York. And what you had to do, of course, was buy a copy of the paper because the entry form was inside.
GOODMANSo this was a great money-making scheme for them, but it became kind of, you know, this legalized lottery. And people became extremely excited about this and by the time the race was over the World had received almost a million entries. And the winning entry was off by two-fifths of a second. The second one was off by three-fifths of a second. So that guy lost by a fifth of a second. But as a result of the World's constant promotion, day after day after day about this trip -- and, of course, they never mentioned Elizabeth Bisland, it was only Nellie Bly -- by the time Nellie Bly had arrived back in San Francisco, she was the most famous woman in America or arguably, some people said the most famous woman in the world at that point.
REHMAnd where was Elizabeth Bisland when Nellie Bly arrived back?
GOODMANYou know, the race was neck and neck almost all of the way. When Nellie Bly was arriving in San Francisco, ready to take a special train from San Francisco across the country back to New York, Elizabeth Bisland had set out by steamship from Ireland and was heading across the North Atlantic, heading back to New York. And at that point nobody knew who was going to arrive in New York first, with Nellie Bly coming east by train from San Francisco.
GOODMANAnd Elizabeth Bisland coming west via steamship from Ireland.
REHMBut surely that steamship would take longer?
GOODMANWell, I don't want to anticipate what...
REHMI know, we're not going to have us a spoiler alert here.
REHMBut the idea that here are these two women, I’m just wondering if Elizabeth Bisland wrote about her feelings. Did she at any point express her own sense of competitiveness?
GOODMANYou know, that's really very, very interesting. You know, Elizabeth Bisland, as I discovered researching this book, was really a fascinating woman in her own right. I was delighted by this because it's a double narrative. You know, half of it is from Nellie Bly's perspective. Half of it is from Elizabeth Bisland's perspective. The chapters alternate back and forth. And it would only work if the competitor to Nellie Bly was equally as compelling and as remarkable a person as Nellie herself. And in fact I found out that she was.
GOODMANBisland was someone who had grown up on a ruined Louisiana sugar cane plantation, ruined by the Civil War. In fact, one of the battles of the Civil War, the Battle of Fort Bisland was fought on her family's estate. She was, as I mentioned earlier, incredibly erudite, literary. She had taught herself to read as a girl by reading tattered, burned copies of Cervantes and Shakespeare that she found in the library of her grandfather's estate.
GOODMANShe taught herself French while she churned butter on the plantation, so that she could read Rousseau's confessions in the original French. She was really a remarkable woman. And even though she had not initially wanted to take this race around the world, she quickly found that she loved it. That she loved travel. That she fell in love with the Far East, Japan in particular. It was a place that she returned to several times later in her life, to revisit the places that she had been as a young woman.
GOODMANSo for Nellie Bly it was always a race, but for Elizabeth Bisland it was really an opportunity to experience the wonders of the world.
REHMMatthew Goodman. His new book is titled, "Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let's go first to Syracuse, N.Y. Good morning, Peter.
PETERGood morning. I wanted to let Mr. Goodman know that he has been in my mind for the last two weeks because I read the "The Sun and the Moon," and then "Eighty Days," just finished that.
PETERAnd it was a delightful read. What I discovered about American journalism was amazing. And I teach journalism and I learned all sorts of new things reading these two books. And I'm wondering if as kind of subtext of your writing was to show us how much things haven't changed in terms of the press' relationship to the public?
GOODMANRight. Well, that's a very interesting question. My previous book, "The Sun and the Moon," was about a newspaper hoax in New York in the year 1835. So these two books together do form a kind of progression about the history of journalism in the 19th century.
GOODMANBut I think that in fact, you're right. Some things haven't changed because, you know, these newspapers kind of created the template for the tabloid newspapers that we have today. Joseph Pulitzer understood in a visceral way that crime stories sold newspapers. And so he always featured crime stories on the front page of his paper. Pulitzer himself was very progressive. He, himself, was an immigrant. He had come from Hungary. He was a Jewish immigrant from Hungary, was a great champion of workers' rights, of unions, of immigrants' rights and so forth.
GOODMANAnd what he said was that he attracted people by the front page in order to get them to read page five, which was the editorial page. So...
GOODMAN...a lot of what, you know, Pulitzer was trying to do is stuff that we still see in papers today. You know, the emphasis on crime, the emphasis on sports, the emphasis on gossip, the emphasis...
GOODMAN...on local news. All of that became the template for today's local newspapers.
PETERYes. I agree. Good. What's your next book going to be?
GOODMANThat's a very good question. I don't have a topic yet. This type of story is very difficult to find, this type of narrative history. You have to find a great main character, a great plot, there has to be a lot of material available in order to write it kind of novelistically, the way that I do. And it has to be a story that hasn't been told in quite this way before. And, ideally, it has kind of a larger political/social meaning. So those stories are hard to come by and that's what I'm searching for right now.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. And the other element here I was fascinated by, Nellie Bly began concentrating on the people who were in steerage and their conditions.
GOODMANRight. Well, Nellie Bly, when she first went to the World, the very first story that she proposed to them was to take a trip, via steerage, the people at the bottom, you know, the immigrants, the poor people and to see what the ocean journey was like for them. The World said, no, we don’t want to do that. And we're going to send you to the Blackwell's Island Lunatic Asylum instead. So now, when Nellie Bly is in fact crossing the ocean on one of these steamships, the people in steerage were right there, were right below her. But in point of fact, she didn't involve herself in concern about them.
GOODMANPart of what was going on with Nellie Bly at that time, was that there was always inside her -- she was a fascinating and complicated character -- there was always a kind of war inside her between her quest for celebrity and her quest for social justice. And here she became more interested in celebrity.
REHMMatthew Goodman. And his newest book titled, "Eighty Days." Short break, right back.
REHMAnd here's an email from Bill in Flagler Beach, Fla. who says, "I went around the world in 80 days." He says, "In 1986 I was a sailor stationed aboard the battleship USS Missouri. We sailed around the world on a goodwill tour in 78 days but we traveled in 20th century comfort. I can't even begin to imagine how Elizabeth and Nellie managed their trips in the days of old modes of transportation. Two brave ladies."
GOODMANThey certainly were. They were very courageous. They faces great hardships along the way. And it was so remarkable that they were both doing it unescorted and speaking only English. And by the way, you know, this is a fascinating thing and it sort of helped build the public's interest in the race. Nellie Bly took with her only a single bag -- just a single handbag, not...
REHMGosh, I wish I could do that.
GOODMAN...not much larger than a pocketbook. Far smaller than the carryon bags we all bring today onto airplanes. But, you know, part of the objection that the male editors at the paper had to her trip was that, well you know, a woman is going to have to bring along 11 steamer trunks to go on a trip like this. We can't have our reporter chasing around after lost bags, you know, and so forth. And so Nellie Bly said, well I am going to carry everything that I need in a single bag measuring 16" by 7" at its base.
REHMSixteen by seven?
GOODMANIn fact, it's on display here in Washington at the museum. And it is tiny. It's a tiny bag. And in it she carried everything that she needed for this trip around the world. You know, she took one dress and a couple of silk bodices. And, you know, she said if you dress for reasons of comfort rather than to impress others it becomes a much simpler affair.
REHMI hope she had a good comfortable pair of shoes.
GOODMANShe certainly did. She had, you know, some warm-weather clothes and some -- you know, because of course she was going across, you know, cold climates and warm climates. She encountered all four seasons on her trip around the world. But, you know, that bag became one of the kind of iconic symbols of her trip.
REHMMatthew, what was her growing up like?
GOODMANShe had a difficult childhood. She was raised in a small town in Pennsylvania that was actually called Cochrane's Mills named after her father who was a wealthy real estate developer. But he died when she was a girl. And owing to complications of the will her mother got almost no money. So she was raised by a single mother who ended up marrying another man to help support the family. That turned out to be terrible. He was a drunk and he was an abuser.
GOODMANAnd after some years Nellie Bly's mother chose to divorce him, which was very unusual at that time. And Nellie Bly, as a young girl, actually testified in court against her stepfather. Nellie Bly learned very early on that a woman must be financially independent, that a woman must be able to take care of herself. And, in fact, Nellie Bly supported her mother through all of these years.
REHMAnd here's an email from Keith -- pardon me -- "Did Nellie Bly name herself after the song or was the song named after her?"
GOODMANThat's a great question. You know, in those days -- Nellie's real name was Elizabeth Cochrane -- in those days very few female reporters wrote under their own name. It was considered improper for a woman to write under her own name in most cases. And so when Nellie Bly, as a very young woman, got a job on a Pittsburgh newspaper, the Pittsburgh Dispatch -- in fact what had happened was that the paper had written an editorial about women's sphere. The proper women's sphere is in the home.
GOODMANNellie Bly who was ill-educated -- she was working as a cleaning lady -- sent in a letter complaining about that. And the editor saw something in the way that she wrote the letter that he said there's something here. And he hired her on the basis of that letter. And she wrote her first article on that subject. But he said, you know, we can't call you by your real name. We have to find another name. And just at the time that they needed to put the article into type, a copyboy upstairs went by singing the Stephen Foster song "Nelly Bly, Nelly Bly." And that's how she got the name. It was short, it was snappy. People already liked it and forever after she was known as Nellie Bly.
REHMTo San Antonio, Texas. Good morning, John.
JOHNGood morning, Diane, and to your guest too. You're so fascinating, all your guests. You're taking me around the world.
JOHNEvery day I listen to you. But my questions are, when they times the race was it like from city to city and then they'd take a break so the clock stops? And I hope when you have the book on tape that this gentleman is the one who narrates the book.
REHMI agree. Doesn't he read well?
GOODMANThank you so much. It is on tape. I'm not the narrator...
REHMOh, too bad.
GOODMAN...although we do have a wonderful narrator. No, the clock was continuous. It did not stop at any point along the way. When Nellie Bly left there was a timekeeper from the New York Athletic Club on hand who was a timer of running races. And he started the stopwatch when she left. And when she arrived back in New Jersey at the end of her route there were three men from the New York Athletic Club there with stop-watchers. And as soon as her second foot hit the ground, the stopwatches stopped and her time was set to the very second.
REHMInteresting. Here's an email from Mical (sp?) in Frankfort, Mich. who says, "Are there any accounts of ship captains, train conductors, etcetera willing to take any risks to aid Nellie Bly in her effort to speed around the world?"
GOODMANAs a matter of fact the answer is yes to that. By the time Nellie Bly was crossing the Pacific from Japan back to San Francisco, the whole world knew about this. The whole world knew about the trip. She had been interviewed by a Japanese newspaper when she was in Japan. She had really become a world celebrity. And, you know, Nellie Bly was desperate to win. She was very competitive and she said several times that she would rather die than return to New York behind time.
GOODMANSo when she got to Japan -- and by this time of course she knew that she was racing against, in fact, another woman, not just against Phileas Fogg, she was desperate to make more time. You know, she had always been concerned about schedules, about deadlines, about ship's departures and so forth. But by the time she got onto the ship in Japan she was constantly saying to the ship's captain, more steam, more steam, go faster, go faster, go faster. And the ship's crew, with the captain and the chief engineer and so forth said that they would do everything that they possibly could to get her to San Francisco, not just on time but ahead of time.
REHMHere's an email from Martha in Hertford, N.C. She says, "Growing up as a child in the '40s I lived with grandparents who were inveterate board game enthusiasts. Of course we children were involved. One of my favorites was "Around the World With Nellie Bly," in which one spun a dial, moved a piece around a spiral board with the goal of getting to the middle first. Players would land at a variety of stops. At times these could impose penalties on progress, such as getting caught in a major gale aboard ship and losing three turns." Fond memories.
GOODMANThat's right. I own a copy of that game as well and I've played it.
GOODMANYes. I've played it with my children. It's a delightful game.
REHMIs it still available?
GOODMANIt is -- you can find it on eBay and so forth. It's not made any longer but it was the most popular board game of its time. It was reissued several times. You know, as I mentioned, because of the world's puffing of her or booming, as the locution of the time, Nellie Bly was a huge celebrity in the United States. So, you know, women wore Nellie Bly caps. They wore Nellie Bly gloves. They wore Nellie Bly dresses modeled on the ones that she had taken on her trip. You could write with Nellie Bly pens by the light of the Nellie Bly lamp. There was Nellie Bly horse feed.
GOODMANI mean, there was just, you know, a world of products associated with Nellie Bly.
REHMWas she making money off this?
GOODMANShe -- there's no indication that she did make any money off of that. But the most popular of these was something that the World put out, which was this board game, this full color lithograph board game "Around the World With Nellie Bly." And it became extremely popular.
REHMAnd you're telling me she did not make a time off this?
GOODMANYou know, this was the very, very early days of celebrity. This was the moment when American companies were first beginning to understand that if they associated their product with a particular famous person, the qualities associated with that person could, in the consumer's mind, be transferred to that product. And people loved Nellie Bly because, you know, she was plucky, she was independent. She was in the locution of the time the American girl.
GOODMANAnd, no, she didn't make money from that as far as we can tell. But she did immediately go out on a 40-city lecture tour, which she did make money from and so forth.
REHMAll right. To Grand Rapids, Mich. Hi there, Joel.
JOELHey, good morning.
JOELThe reason I'm calling is because the author talked about Pulitzer and his promoting of unions. But my daughter was in the Broadway play "Newsies" which actually is a play about newspaper boys in 1899 who struck against Pulitzer and Randolph Hearst. And the play is about how he dealt with these little street urchins and not very nicely and kindly.
GOODMANI think that that's true. I guess you would say that his feelings about unions were a little bit different when it was the union striking against his own company. But he was certainly someone generally who supported the rights of unions, supported the rights of immigrants. You know, it was due to Joseph Pulitzer that we even have the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. You know, the French had built this statue. The U.S. Congress was supposed to allocate money to build the base for this statute and refused to do it. And there was no place to put the statue.
GOODMANAnd Joseph Pulitzer decided this was no good. And so he led a campaign in the pages of the World to raise money to build the base of the Statue of Liberty. And from the pennies and the nickels and the times sent in to him by the immigrant readers of the World they, in a very short matter of time, raised the money to build the statue. And the fact that the Statue of Liberty was out there was really a symbol of the burgeoning power, not just of immigrants but of the press.
REHMThanks for calling, Joel. And to Buford, S.C. Good morning, James.
JAMESGood morning. Thank you for the show. It's been terrific.
JAMESAnd I do have maybe a trivial question but you opened the segment by talking about how Nellie Bly was the namesake of an amusement park that you were familiar with as a child. And I'm curious if, in your research, if you ever came to the reason as to why she was the namesake of the park.
REHMAnd let me, before he responds, just remind you you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Matthew.
GOODMANThe amusement park had a kind of a -- sort of an around-the-world theme. So that was the reason. And also Nellie Bly did live for a period of time in Brooklyn -- or I should say she had property in Brooklyn. Her family lived in Brooklyn, so there was a local connection as well.
REHMTell me how the journeys of these two women affected the thinking of women in this country, and perhaps even around the world.
GOODMANRight. It was fascinating to read the accounts of female reporters of that time who were heartened by this. Who were thrilled to see women reporter's names, not just on the women's page of their local paper, but actually on the front pages in the news sections of their newspaper. The fact that these women could do something that had been considered simply a male province up to that point, which was travel.
GOODMANThe fact that women could handle the demands today, you know, it seems ridiculous. But the idea that at the time that women were not capable of handling the demands of travel, the physical endurance of it, handling schedules and timetables and being out there in the world on their own. The fact that these two women were both able to do it and to do it faster than any man had ever done it before was deeply heartening to women, both female journalists and just women in general.
REHMAnd yet even as I was growing up, you still had women relegated to the so called women's pages.
GOODMANAbsolutely. And I think what this story shows is both how far women journalists have come and how far still needs to be -- what ground still needs to be attained. After Nellie Bly there was a whole series of female reporters who did the kind of work that Nellie Bly did. They became known as stunt girls and they uncovered all kinds of social justice -- or injustice I should say. You know, they begged on the streets. You know, they did all kinds of things to try to show the social oppression that was going on in that time. And that was the first time that it ever really happened.
REHMAnd yet, you mention that Nellie Bly did get paid for lectures and things after that. Elizabeth sort of drifted into nowhere.
GOODMANRight. You know, one of the gratifying things for me about writing this book was A. to discover Elizabeth Bisland. Nobody had written a book about Elizabeth Bisland before and B. to bring her to the attention of a new generation of readers, because she was such an interesting woman. And her writing was so wonderful. You know, she was a wonderful essayist. She was writing right up until the very end of her life, collections of essays. She had a collection of essays published just a couple of years before her death.
GOODMANBut she was someone who was really not interested in celebrity. When she arrived back in New York she was at the height of her fame, the height of the public's fascination with her. She immediately left and she went to England. And she lived in England for a year as a way to escape the kind of notoriety or sensation...
REHMHow long did she live?
GOODMANShe lived in England for a year and was part of the literary scene in England. Rudyard Kipling fell in love with her and then returned to New York.
REHMHow old was Nellie Bly when she passed away?
GOODMANShe was a young woman. She was in her early 50's. She died of pneumonia.
GOODMANElizabeth Bisland lived until her late 60's.
REHMMatthew Goodman. His new book is titled "Eighty Days: Nellie (sic) and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World." Thank you so much. It was fascinating.
GOODMANThank you, Diane, it was a great pleasure.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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