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  • Destiny Yarbro

Circumnavigating the Globe Faster Than Fiction: Nellie Bly

This morning I saw an article published by Matador Network on Nellie Bly, a 19th-century female traveler.

Only problem was, I wasn't a fan of the title of the article (and as a result, didn't feel comfortable sharing it on social media), so I decided to do my own homework and learn more about Nellie. [What can I say, I was a history major. My professors would be so proud of me!]

Photo of Nellie Bly from Wikipedia. Proving 'Around the World in 80 Days' Was Possible: Nellie Bly. LDS Nomad. Destiny Yarbro

Photo Credit: H. J. Myers. [Library of Congress: cph.3b22819]

Because I am posting this on LDS Nomad, you may assume that she was Mormon. Alas, she is not...yet...but she is one of my travel heroes! :)

Rather than giving you the bland Wikipedia-version of her life, I decided to highlight my favorite parts. [For those of you who absolutely love the bland stuff, like me, click here for the Wikipedia article >> ]


Nellie grew up working hard on her family farm and mill. She wanted to go to school but after only a semester in a boarding school, her funds ran out and she had to return home. She continued to hone her writing skills.

When a newspaper came out with an article called "What Girls Are Good For", Nellie pulled out her soapbox and wrote a passionate response to the editor. The editor turned around and hired her as a writer and allowed her to report on the rights of working women.


My favorite parts of Nellie's story were her passionate pleas for the downtrodden, misunderstood, or oppressed. Early on in her career, she got kicked out of Mexico when she stood up for the mistreatment of journalists.

But the best story about her 'hands-on' research methods was when she got herself committed to an insane asylum to see mistreatment of patients in person. In preparation, she stopped bathing, wore her hair messy, practiced vacant expressions in the mirror, and wandered the streets of New York until she was eventually committed to Blackwell's Island, a mental hospital only accessible by ferry.

This hospital was originally built to be the most progressive mental hospital in America. With loss of funding, however, they shipped in inmates from a nearby prison to 'care' for the patients and the results were horrendous.

Nellie quickly discovered that many of her fellow inmates were completely sane, just misunderstood (especially immigrants) and that getting committed was easier than getting out. She didn't act insane while in the hospital but found that "the more sanely I talked and acted, the crazier I was thought to be."


What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment? Here is a class of women sent to be cured. I would like the expert physicians who are condemning me for my action, which has proven their ability, to take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would make her a mental and physical wreck.


Thankfully, she had arranged ahead of time to only be in the hospital 10 days and left, ready to fight until major reforms were in place. As a result of her article, nearly $1,000,000 was added to the budget.


Even with her success as a reporter, Nellie was a business woman and had a role in creating the 55-gallon steel oil drum; a groundbreaking invention for transporting oil. At the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in New York, they advertised her as "the only woman in the world personally managing industries of such magnitude."

She was a businesswoman before it was even a word.


Nellie Bly. 19th Century Traveler, Journalist, Advocate and Businesswoman. LDS Nomad. Destiny Yarbro

Okay, so here's where Nellie fits into LDS Nomad.

Nellie wanted to prove the book, Around the World in 80 Days, was not just plausible on paper but possible in real life. She set out to circumnavigate the globe, traveling nearly 25,000 miles, racing the clock.

Traveling alone nearly the entire way and carrying only a tiny handbag (I'll bet most of us reading this blog have never traveled as light as she did!), she made the journey in 72 days and broke the record. (She even met Jules Verne, the author of Around the World, along the way.)

New York Public Library:

Traveler, Journalist, Businesswoman, and Advocate

Isn't Nellie amazing!?!

There is just something so incredible about someone who is not afraid to be the first: the first to go undercover in an insane asylum, the 'first' major businesswoman, the first person to travel the world in 80 days.

You can read more about her in these articles:

Comment below if I forgot something about Nellie in this article!

Happy Travels!


P.S. Don't forget to SUBSCRIBE for more travel hacks, deals, and stories!

Still in the travel mood? Check out another post:

Link to Article: 10 Reasons Why Semester at Sea is Worth the Cost. Destiny Yarbro. LDS Nomad
Link to Article: Why We Cannot Afford to Stop Traveling with the Attacks. LDS Nomad. Destiny Yarbro

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