Photo: Library of Congress

Today Is the Birthday of the Most Badass Woman Traveler of All Time

by Matt Hershberger May 5, 2016

TODAY IS THE 152ND BIRTHDAY of Nellie Bly, one of the most badass travelers of all time. Bly is best known for traveling around the world in a mere 72 days back in 1889, but she did so many other awesome things that make her life worth celebrating.

Nellie Bly was the pen name of Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, a Pittsburgh native who got a job as a local journalist when she wrote a letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch absolutely ripping apart an article titled “What Women Are Good For,” a misogynistic screed about how women should only stay in the kitchen. The editor was impressed with Bly, and offered her a job. But while her editors pressured her to cover fashion and gardening (the typical purview of female journalists in her day) Bly wanted to do investigative reporting on the lives of working women.

She eventually moved to Mexico, which was then under the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. Bly reported on their treatment of the press and was hounded out of the country by Diaz’s goons. When she got back to Pittsburgh, they still wanted her to write about fashion and society, so she left her job with no money, went to New York, and offered to do an asylum expose for the New York World, owned by the famed Joseph Pulitzer.

The way she did the expose is the stuff of legend: she pretended to be insane, and was committed to the asylum for 10 days. When she got out, her reports of the horrible conditions of the asylum shocked the world, and led to major reforms.

Her next exploit was her most famous one. Inspired by Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, Bly decided to try and beat Verne’s character, Phileas Fogg’s, record of 80 days. She took a steamer to London, and then traveled through France (where she met Verne) to Italy and the Suez Canal, on to Sri Lanka, Penang (in what is modern-day Malaysia), Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Japan, and home. She only took trains and steamers, and she managed to travel 24,899 miles in a mere 72 days. It set a world record, and, it’s important to note, Bly traveled totally alone, making her the patron saint of female solo travelers to this day.

Bly was a feminist and a supporter of women’s suffrage and was literally one of the world’s best travelers. She was also an all-around badass. So this Cinco de Mayo, raise at least one of your tequila shots to the memory of Nellie Bly, the patron saint of badass solo female travelers everywhere.

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