She was one of the first women to report from the front lines during World War I, and she made headlines racing around the world faster than Phileas Fogg, the fictional hero in Jules Vernes' "Around the World in Eighty Days."
Not quite so well remembered is one of Bly's rivals in New York journalistic circles who finished second in that race around the world. She was Elizabeth Bisland, born Feb. 11, 1861, on Fairfax Plantation in St. Mary Parish.
Her father was a sugar planter who served in the Confederate army during the Civil War. His plantation was occupied at one time or another by forces from both sides during that war and was so badly damaged that he had to abandon it. Elizabeth was 12 when the family moved to the old family home in Natchez that her father inherited.
She began her writing career as a teenager, sending poetry to the New Orleans Times Democrat under the pen name B.L.R. Dane, and a few years later went to New Orleans to work as a reporter for the newspaper. She moved to New York in the late 1880s and, using her own name, became an associate editor of Cosmopolitan magazine.
Bisland apparently had both brains and beauty. In 1888, The Journalist, a New York publication, declared Bisland "undoubtedly the most beautiful woman in metropolitan journalism." The magazine declared, "Her great beauty and aegis of powerful friends give her ready entrance into New York society and her talents have realized for her that recognition of publishers which gladdens the heart and burdens the purse."
The race that captured the eyes of the world began on Nov. 14, 1889, when Bly sailed from New York on a steamer bound for Europe and Bisland headed in the opposite direction across the U.S. by train.
Traveling by everything from railroad to rickshaw, Bisland was ahead at the halfway point, passing through Hong Kong three days before Bly got there.
And she might have won except for what some people believe to be a piece of chicanery that put Bisland on a slow boat from Europe while Bly raced from San Francisco to New York on a specially chartered train.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "The red tape of the French government defeated her."
Her train to Paris was two hours late, which meant — she thought — that she'd missed her connection with a fast German steamer that would have put her in New York ahead of Bly.
Bisland did not know and was not told that her publisher had bribed the shipping company and the boat was waiting for her. Thinking the faster ship had already sailed, she boarded a much slower steamer that could not get her to New York on time.
Bly completed the race around the world in 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes, and 14 seconds, according to a clock kept by her publisher — beating the fictional Fogg's record by a week.
Bisland lost the race but described her adventures in a series of articles for Cosmopolitan. They were later compiled into a book, "A Flying Trip Around the World."
Bisland continued to write for Cosmopolitan and her later work focused on topics more serious than the race. In 1906, she published the well-received "The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn," whom she'd met when both were living in New Orleans in the 1880s. Her final book, "Three Wise Men of the East," was published posthumously in 1930.
She died of pneumonia on Jan. 6, 1929, and is buried in Woodland Cemetery in New York City.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.