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1887  Journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochran, better known by her nom de plume, became a cultural phenomenon.

Elizabeth Jane Cochrane was given the name "Nellie Bly" by the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch. He took the name from Stephen Foster's song, "Nellie Bly" after she published her first controversial story on divorce. Nellie's career at the Pittsburgh Dispatch began as a result of her complaints of an aritcle the paper had published. She first wrote a letter of complaint and then went in person to do so. At that time, she asked for a job and the editor gave her a trial run with an article on any subject she chose.

Elizabeth Jane Cochrane was one of 15 children

The New York World newspaper was established in 1860. By the late 1870s the newspaper was losing $40,000 a year and in 1883 Joseph Pulitzer purchased it for $346,000. It was turned into a newspaper that concentrated on human-interest stories, scandal and sensational material. Pulitzer also promised to use the paper to "expose all fraud and sham, fight all public evils and abuses, and to battle for the people with earnest sincerity". In 1885 Pulitzer recruited Richard F. Outcault as one of his artists on the New York World. Outcault's comic cartoons based on life in the slums were extremely popular with the readers.

Nellie Bly was recruited by Joseph Pulitzer to write for the New York World. Over the next few years she pioneered the idea of investigative journalism by writing articles about poverty, housing and labor conditions in New York. This often involved undercover work and feigned insanity to get into the insane asylum on Blackwell's Island. Her scathing attack on the way patients were treated led to much needed reforms.

After reading Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days in 1889, Nellie Bly suggested to Joseph Pulitzer that his newspapershould finance an attempt to break the record illustrated in the book. He liked the idea and used Bly's journey to publicize the New York World. The newspaper held a competition which involved guessing the time it would take Bly to circle the globe. Over 1,000,000 people entered the contest and when she arrived back in New York she was met by a massive crowd to see her break the record in 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds.

Nellie Bly's Book
- Around the World in Seventy-Two Days

by Nellie Bly (Elizabeth Jane Cochrane)
Brentano's, London, England - 1890
Pictorial Weeklies, New York, N.Y. - 1890
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn. - 1999
She retired from journalism after marrying Robert Seaman in 1895. Seaman, the millionaire owner of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Company and the American Steel Barrel Company, died in 1904. Bly decided to take over the running of these two ailing companies. Recognizing the importance of the well-being of the workers, she introduced a series of reforms that included the provision of eemployee health-care, gymnasiums and libraries.

Bly was vacationing in Europe on the outbreak of the First World War. She immediately travelled to the Eastern Front where she reported the war for the New York Evening Journal. Nellie Bly died of pneumonia in New York on 27th January, 1922.

1895  Frances Willard.

. . . and sighing for new worlds to conquer, I determined that I would learn the bicycle . . . .

As a temperance reformer I always felt a strong attraction toward the bicycle, because it is the vehicle of so much harmless pleasure, and because the skill required in handling obliges those who mount to keep clear heads and steady hands. Nor could I see a reason in the world why a woman should not ride the silent steed so swift and blithesome. I knew perfectly well that when, some ten or fifteen years ago, Miss Bertha von Hillern, a young German artist in America, took it into her head to give exhibitions of her skill in riding the bicycle she was thought by some to be a sort of semi-monster; and liberal as our people are in their views of what a woman may undertake, I should certainly have felt compromised, at that remote and benighted period, by going to see her ride, not because there was any harm in it, but solely because of what we call in homely phrase "the speech of people." But behold! It was long ago conceded that women might ride the tricycle indeed, one had been presented to me by my friend Colonel Pope, of Boston, a famous manufacturer of these swift roadsters, as far back as 1886; and I had swung around the garden-paths upon its saddle a few minutes every evening when work was over at my Rest Cottage home. I had even hoped to give an impetus among conservative women to this new line of physical development and outdoor happiness . . . .

Not a single friend encouraged me to learn the bicycle except an active-minded young school-teacher, Miss Luther, of my hometown, Evanston, who came several times with her wheel and gave me lessons. I also took a few lessons in a stuffy, semisubterranean gallery in Chicago. But at fifty-three I was at more disadvantage than most people, for not only had I the impedimenta that result from the unnatural style of dress, but I also suffered from the sedentary habits of a lifetime. And then that small world (which is our real one) of those who loved me best, and who considered themselves largely responsible for my every-day methods of life, did not encourage me . . . in their affectionate solicitude-and with abundant reason that I should "break my bones" and "spoil my future." It must be said, however, to their everlasting praise, that they opposed no objection when they saw that my will was firmly set set to do this one thing; on the contrary, they put me in the way of carrying out my purpose, and lent to my laborious lessons the light of their countenances reconciled . . . .

The order of evolution was something like this: First, three young Englishmen, all strong-armed and accomplished bicyclers, held the machine in place while I climbed timidly into the saddle. Second, two well-disposed young women put in all the power they had, until they grew red in the face, offsetting each other's pressure on the cross-bar and thus maintaining the equipoise to which I was unequal. Third, one walked beside me, steadying the ark as best she could by holding the center of the deadly cross-bar, to let go whose handles meant chaos and collapse. After this I was able to hold my own if I had the moral support of my kind trainers, and it passed into a proverb among them, the short emphatic word of command I gave them at every few turns of the wheel: "Let go, but stand by." Still later everything was learned — how to sit, how to pedal, how to turn, how to dismount; but alas! how to vault into the saddle I found not; that was the coveted power that lingered long and would not yield itself.

Gradually, item by item, I learned the location of every screw and spring, spoke and tire, and every beam and bearing that went to make up Gladys. This was not the lesson of a day, but of many days and weeks, and it had to be learned before we could get on well together. To my mind the infelicities of which we see so much in life grow out of lack of time and patience thus to study and adjust the natures that have agreed in the sight of God and man to stand by one another to the last. They will not take the pains, they have not enough specific gravity, to balance themselves in their new environment. Indeed, I found a whole philosophy of life in the wooing and the winning of my bicycle.

Just as a strong and skilful (sic) swimmer takes the waves, so the bicycler must learn to take such waves of mental impression as the passing of a gigantic hay-wagon, the sudden obtrusion of black cattle with wide-branching horns, the rattling pace of high-stepping steeds, or even the swift transit of a railway-train. At first she will be upset by the apparaition of the smallest poodle, and not until she has attained a wide experience will she hold herself steady in presence of the critical eyes of a coach-and-four. But all this is a part of that equilibration of thought and action by which we conquer the universe in conquering ourselves.

I finally concluded that all failure was from a wobbling will rather than a wobbling wheel. I felt that indeed the will is the wheel of the mind-its perpetual motion having been learned when the morning stars sang together. When the wheel of the mind went well then the rubber wheel hummed merrily; but specters of the mind there are as well as of the wheel. In the aggregate of perception concerning which we have reflected and from which we have deduced our generalizations upon the world without, within, above, there are so many ghastly and fantastical images that they must obtrude themselves at certain intervals, like filmy bits of glass in the turn of the kaleidoscope. Probably every accident of which I had heard or read in my half-century tinged the uncertainty that by the correlation of forces passed over into the tremor that I felt when we began to round the terminus bend of the broad Priory walk. And who shall say by what inherited energy the mind forced itself at once from the contemplation of disaster and thrust into the very movement of the foot on the pedal a concept of vigor, safety, and success? I began to feel that myself plus the bicycle equaled myself plus the world, upon whose spinning-wheel we must all learn to ride, or fall into the sluice-ways of oblivion and despair. That which made me succeed with the bicycle was precisely what had gained me a measure of success in life-it was the hardihood of spirit that led me to begin, the persistence of will that held me to my task, and the patience that was willing to begin again when the last stroke had failed And so I found high moral uses in the bicycle and can commend it as a teacher without pulpit or creed. He who succeeds, or, to be more exact in handing over my experience, she who succeeds in gaining the mastery of such an animal as Gladys, will gain the mastery of life, and by exactly the same methods and characteristics . . . .

We rejoiced together greatly in perceiving the impetus that this uncompromising but fascinating and illimitably capable machine would give to that blessed "woman question" to which we were both devoted; for we had earned our own bread many a year, and she, although more than twenty years my junior, had accumulated an amount of experience well-nigh as great, because she had lived in the world's heart . . . . We saw that the physical development of humanity's mother-half would be wonderfully advanced by that universal introduction of the bicycle sure to come about within the next few years, because it is for the interest of great commercial monopolies that this should be so, since if women patronize the wheel the number of buyers will be twice as large. If women ride they must, when riding, dress more rationally than they have been wont to do. If they do this many prejudices as to what they may be allowed to wear will melt away. Reason will gain upon precedent, and ere long the comfortable, sensible, and artistic wardrobe of the rider will make the conventional style of woman's dress absurd to the eye and unendurable to the understanding. A reform often advances most rapidly by indirection. An ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory; and the graceful and becoming costume of woman on the bicycle will convince the world that has brushed aside the theories, no matter how well constructed, and the arguments, no matter how logical, of dress-reformers.

A woman with bands hanging on her hips, and dress snug about the waist and chokingly tight at the throat, with heavily trimmed skirts dragging down the back and numerous folds heating the lower part of the spine, and with tight shoes, ought to be in agony. She ought to be as miserable as a stalwart nun would be in the same plight. And the fact that she can coolly and complacently assert that her clothing is perfectly easy, and that she does not want anything more comfortable or convenient, is the most conclusive Proof that she is altogether abnormal bodily, and not a little so in mind.

My last teacher was — as ought to be the case on the principle of climax — my best . . . . No. 12 had the wit and wisdom to retire to the rear of the saucy steed, that I might form the habit of seeing no sign of aid or comfort from any source except my own reaction on the treadles according to law; yet cunningly contrived, by laying a skilled hand upon the saddle without my observation, knowledge, or consent, to aid me in my balancing. She diminished the weight thus set to my account as rapidly as my own increasing courage and skill rendered this possible . . . . But at last (which means in two months or thereabouts, at at ten or twenty minutes' practice off and on daily) I reached the goal, and could mount the bicycle without the slightest foreign 'interference or even the moral support of a sympathetic onlooker . . . .

And now comes the question "What do the doctors say?" Here follow several testimonies:

"The question now of great interest to girls is in regard to the healthfulness of the wheel. Many are prophesying dire results from this fascinating exercise, and fond parents are refusing to allow their daughters to ride because they are girls. It will be a delight to girls to learn that the fact of their sex is, in itself, not a bar to riding a wheel. If the girl is normally constituted and is dressed hygienically, and if she will use judgment and not overtax herself in learning to ride, and in measuring the length of rides after she has learned, she is in no more danger from riding a wheel than is the young man. But if she persists in riding in a tight dress, and uses no judgment in deciding the amount of exercise she is capable of safely taking, it will be quite possible for her to injure herself, and then it is she, and not the wheel, that is to blame. Many physicians are now coming to regard the 'wheel' as beneficial to the health of women as well as of men."

Dr. Seneca Egbert says: "As an exercise bicycling is superior to most, if not all, others at our command. It takes one into the outdoor air; it is entirely under control; can be made gentle or vigorous as one desires; is active and not passive; takes the rider outside of himself and the thoughts and cares of his daily work; develops his will, his attention, his courage and independence, and makes pleasant what is otherwise most irksome. Moreover, the exercise is well and equally distributed over almost the whole body, and, as Parker says, when all the muscles are exercised no muscle is likely to be over-exercised."

He advocates cycling as a remedy for dyspepsia, torpid liver, incipient consumption, nervous exhaustion, rheumatism, and melancholia. In regard to the exercise for women he says: "It gets them out of doors, gives them a form of exercise adapted to their needs, that they may enjoy in company with others or alone, and one that goes to the root of their nervous troubles."

He instances two cases, of girls fourteen and eighteen years of age, where a decided increase in height could be fairly attributed to cycling. The question is often asked if riding a wheel is not the same as running a sewing-machine. Let the same doctor answer: "Not at all. Women, at least, sit erect on a wheel, and consequently the thighs never make even a right angle with the trunk, and there is no stasis of blood in the lower limbs and genitalia. Moreover, the work itself makes the rider breathe in oceans of fresh air; while the woman at the sewing-machine works indoors, stoops over her work contracting the chest and almost completely checking the flow of blood to and from the lower half of her body, where at the same time she is increasing the demand for it, finally aggravating the whole trouble by the pressure of the lower edge of the corset against the abdomen, so that the customary cogestions and displacements have good cause for their existence . . . ."

Let me remark to any young woman who reads this page that for her to tumble off her bike is inexcusable. The lightsome elasticity of every muscle, the quickness of the eye, the agility of motion, ought to preserve her from such a catastrophe. I have had [only one] fall . . . . I have proceeded on a basis of the utmost caution, and aside from . . . one pitiful performance the bicycle has cost me hardly a single bruise.

They that know nothing fear nothing. Away back in 1886 my alert young friend, Miss Anna Gordon, and my ingenious young niece, Miss Katherine Willard, took to the tricycle as naturally as ducks take to water . . . . Remembering my country bringing-up and various exploits in running climbing, horseback-riding to say nothing of my tame heifer that I trained for a Bucephalus, I said to myself, "If those girls can ride without learning so can I!" Taking out my watch I timed them as they, at my suggestion, set out to make a record in going round the square. Two and a half minutes was the result. I then started with all my forces well in hand, and flew around in two and a quarter minutes. Not contented with this, but puffed up with foolish vanity, I declared that I would go around in two minutes; and, encouraged by their cheers, away I went without a fear till the third turning-post was reached, when the left hand played me false, and turning at an acute angle, away I went sidelong, machine and all, into the gutter, falling on my right elbow, which felt like a glassful of chopped ice, and I knew that for the first time in a life full of vicissitudes I had been really hurt. Anna Gordon's white face as she ran toward me caused me to wave my uninjured hand and call out, "Never mind!" and with her help I rose and walked into the house, wishing above all things to go straight to my own room and he on my own bed, and thinking as I did so how pathetic is that instinct that makes "the stricken deer go weep," the harmed hare seek the covert.

Two physicians were soon at my side, and my mother, then over eighty years of age, came in with much controlled agitation and seated herself beside my bed, taking my hand and saying, "O Frank! you were always too adventurous."

It is needless to say that a bicycling costume was a prerequisite. This consisted of a skirt and blouse of tweed, with belt, rolling collar, and loose cravat, the skirt three inches from the ground; a round straw hat, and walking-shoes with gaiters. It was a simple, modest suit, to which no person of common sense could take exception.

As nearly as I can make out, reducing the problem to actual figures, it took me about three months, with an average of fifteen minutes' practice daily, to learn, first, to pedal; second, to turn; third, to dismount; and fourth, to mount independently this most mysterious animal. January 20th will always be a red-letter bicycle day, because although I had already mounted several times with no hand on the rudder, some good friend had always stood by to lend moral support; but summoning all my force, and, most forcible of all, what Sir Benjamin Ward Richardson declares to be the two essential elements — decision and precision — I mounted and started off alone. From that hour the spell was broken; Gladys was no more a mystery: I had learned all her kinks, had put a bridle in her teeth, and touched her smartly with the whip of victory. Consider, ye who are of a considerable chronology: in about thirteen hundred minutes, or, to put it more mildly, in twenty-two hours, or, to put it most mildly of all, in less than a single day as the almanac reckons time-but practically in two days of actual practice amid the delightful surroundings of the great outdoors, and inspired by the bird-songs, the color and fragrance of an English posy-garden, in the company of devoted and pleasant comrades, I had made myself master of the most remarkable, ingenious, and inspiring motor ever yet devised upon this planet.

Moral: Go thou and do likewise!

Misses Palmer and Severud and their wheels in Milton, North Dakota circa 1900.  Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo, ND.  DIGITAL ID (hand-colored) ndfahult c445.  Gift of Donna Jean Verwest, 1969.  From The Northern Great Plains, 1880-1920: Photographs from the Fred Hultstrand and F.A. Pazandak Photograph Collections at the Library of Congress.
Handpainted, photographer unknown. Library of Congress

circa 1900  Misses Palmer and Severud and their "wheels" in Milton, North Dakota early in the 20th century. One steadies the handle bar and the other pumps air into a tire. Both are properly dressed as ladies of the day.


"O Fogg, good bye," said Nellie Bly
It takes a maiden to be spry,
To span the space twixt thought and act
And turn a fiction to a fact."

"O bye and bye," dreams Nellie Bly
Along a strand of light I'll hie
And stars and gleams will follow too,
But they must hustle if they do."

Advertising text reads:
"Use Dr. Morse's Indian Root Pills
For Biliousness, Headache and Constipation"

When Nellie Bly went on the fly
To show what courage dared to try
She made the startled world confess
Men don't monopolize success.

If Nellie Bly is in the sky
Observing Luna's phases
It is because the world's applause
Makes light of those it praises.

When Nellie Bly, the final Tie
That bound the earth had knotted,
The World looked on and cried "Welldone,
The Globe was bravely trotted."

O Nellie Bly, upon a 'bi'
Around the planets in the sky
Pursues the stars, outstrips their gleams,
And races comets (in her dreams.)

The U.S. Mint struck 857 million coins with the 19th century suffragette on the face from 1979 to 1981, but found itself stuck with 550 million of them when production ended. Many people complained the Susan B dollar was too easily mistaken for a quarter because of its look and feel.  The coin was last struck in 1999.  It was replaced in 2000 with the gold-colored Sacagawea dollar coin which has also failed to find acceptance with the general public.
"Let me tell you what I think about bicycling.
It has done more to emancipate women than anything else in this world. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untram-
meled womanhood. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman on a wheel . . ."

-- Suffragette Susan B. Anthony in a Feb 2, 1896 speech, quoted in the New York World and in the Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony by Ida Husted Harper. For more about the pioneering feminist, visit the Susan B. Anthony House, or read about the landmark legal case, United States v. Susan B. Anthony: 1873, that led to the adoption of women's suffrage with the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Bicycling New York Streets, 1896.
Description: Two women bicyclists riding uptown along 5th Avenue near 115th Street.
Dimensions (height by width): 8 x 10 inches
Subject terms: 115th St., 5th Ave., Harlem, women, bicycle, street scene
Studio number: [Byron stamp 158], First series neg 2040.  The Byron Collection,, The Museum of the City of New York.
Byron Collection, 1896
The Museum of the City of New York

Uptown on 5th Avenue near 115th Street
The Scorcher March and Two-Step was a popular dance piece written for piano by George Rosey and published at the peak of the bicycle craze in 1897.  It was published in New York by Joseph W, Stern and lithographed by Sackett & Wilhelm. 

Hyperlink to The Lester P. Levy Collection of Sheet Music at The Johns Hopkins University.  Call No.: Box: 061 Item: 105.
At the height of the bicycle craze the only thing better than a pretty girl and a fast bicycle was a popular dance tune to bring everything together. George Rosey wrote this piano piece for New Yorkers in 1897. Fast riders were called "scorchers" for the way they seemed to blaze down the roads. Racers were called "cracks." Impromptu sprint races between riders meeting on the street were called "drags." This stylized cover girl is wearing the new "bloomers" which shocked many women who decried women's cycling. Her bicycle's frame was designed to accomodate a woman's skirts.

Charles Duryea is credited with introducing the drop-frame on his Sylph bicycles first produced in Chickopee, Mass. After building the first successful automobile in 1893, Charles and Frank Duryea became the first American automakers, producing 13 vehicles in Peoria, Illinois three years later.

Hyperlink to Amazing Bikes: Two Centuries on Two Wheels, an exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California.

Americans might have been shocked by the thought of a woman wearing pantaloons or bloomers pedaling a bicycle, but the French understood what sold products in 1895. This lithograph by G. Massias in Paris advertised a popular brand of the day. Pedaling History presents a collection of antique bicycle posters. Taiwan's Bik Museum also displays an extensive collection of posters and turn-of-the-century bicycle components.
The Bicycle Girl, 1895.  Hyperlink to The Lester P. Levy Collection of Sheet Music at The Johns Hopkins University.
If the young lady on the cover of the Scorcher March was considered a racy pinup in her day, the young woman above is truly The Bicycle Girl wearing a "costume" that would have been deemed appropriate by Frances Willard. She graced the cover of another popular song published in 1895. Lyrics by Avery Oddfellow and music by F.W. Meacham, published in Brooklyn, N.Y. by Hendenberg and Dakin and distributed at music stores from coast to coast.

Two women on bicycles, Aug. 24, 1898.  Creator: William Holmes Wilcox.  Before the 1890s, bicycle design and long skirts kept most women from joining men in the new craze for cycling. It wasn't considered proper for a women to wear short skirts or show her legs. By 1895, a number of Seattle women were taking cycling classes and wearing baggy pants called bloomers as they cycled along the city's growing network of trails.  This August 1898 photo shows two women standing by their bicycles on a path near Port Townsend. It was taken by local photographer William H. Wilcox.  Picture ID# SHS 13,467.

Hyperlink to Museum of History and Industry.
William Holmes Wilcox, Aug. 24, 1898
Museum of History and Industry
Trail near Port Townsend, Washington.

Next: 1899

See 19th Century Bicycle News for a selected bibliography and historical resources online, or use the links to find other sites of interest.

Copyright © 2001  Dennis Cowals
All rights reserved.