But if we don’t really know how America’s female journalists thought about these journeys, the country at large eagerly awaited news of the writers’ return—well, Bly’s return, anyway. When she arrived on January 25, 1890—four days before Bisland made it home—she was received “with the sort of fanfare usually reserved for a conquering hero; her race around the world was already being turned from a personal to a national triumph.” The World, which characterized the journey as “a tribute to American pluck, American womanhood, and American perseverance,” even sponsored a contest for readers to guess the exact time the reporter would step off the train. (The winner, F. W. Stevens of 193 Second Avenue, predicted that Bly would return 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and 14 2/5 seconds after she had departed. He won an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe—for one.)

Bly’s glory was short-lived. After a stint on the lecture circuit, she had continuous fights with editors and moved with her mother to a farmhouse in the country to escape publicity and what Goodman calls “unpleasant talk.” Though she returned to journalism later in life, she was too famous to do the undercover investigative reporting at which she really excelled.

Bisland, in contrast, went to London to mingle in British high society. She wrote a series of articles for The Cosmopolitan on her journey, subsequently published as a book, In Seven Stages: A Flying Trip Around The World. She married a wealthy attorney who later became a utilities tycoon. Bisland’s 1929 New York Times obituary (“Mrs. E. B. Wetmore, Author, Dies in South”) failed to even mention the journey.

As for the record, Bly did hold the position of the fastest person in the world, very briefly. Four months later, on May 24, 1890, George Francis Train completed an around-the-world trip in 67 days.


More in Critical Eye

Brief encounters

Read More »

Daniel Luzer is web editor of the Washington Monthly.