004 – Three Female Adventurers

Three Female Adventurers


Today we are going to talking about not one, not two but three fantastic female adventurers who dared to make their mark in history and travel the world. Spring is in the air and Minnesota; everyone is ready to bust out of there house. The first episode we were able to learn about Jean Barret, who was the first female to circumnavigate the globe. This episode we will break down three adventurers; Nellie Bly, Annie Londonberry, and Isabella Lucy Bird. All three females were born around the mid-1800’s, were non-conformist that didn’t pull any punches. They were ambitious modern thinkers at a time when woman supposed to be timid and obedient. Get settled in, for the first time we are trying a new format with three amazing travelers. Join Layla and me for a trip around the world.

A photo of Annie in her biking attire riding on a bike.
A photo of Annie in her biking attire riding on a bike.

Annie Londonberry

She was born Annie Cohen Kopchovsky in Riga, Latvia 1870. Her family set sail for America and a new life when Annie was just a child. I couldn’t find much about her childhood, earliest accounts have her married with three kids by 1892. That would make her 22 years old. Also in 1892, a group of men made a bet with one another that no woman could beat the record for cycling around the world. A man named Thomas Stevens had set the record ten years earlier. With some caveats, she would have do it in 15 months (Stevens took 32), starting with zero cash and earn $5000. There was speculation that any woman to attempt the challenge was to win $10,000 if she succeeded. Annie had never been on a bike before, she learned 3 days before her big ride.




The New York World described her epic adventure as “the most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman.” She was a celebrity and for a while was given her own column in the New York World, where she wrote about her journey (with her usual amount of creative license!)


“I am a journalist and ‘a new woman,’” she wrote, “if that term means that I believe I can do anything that any man can do.”

Her first article was about her round-the-world bicycle adventure


Isabella Bird wearing Manchurian clothing from a journey through China.
Isabella Bird wearing Manchurian clothing from a journey through China.

Isabella Lucy Bird

Isabella Lucy Bird wasn’t your stereotypical adventurer. She was a slightly stout, middle-aged woman from Yorkshire, England. She suffered from chronic health issues, which is one of the reasons started to travel. Her first sea voyage to the United States was to help with her insomnia and depression. She was an inspirational writer, see her quotes below.

“She was a truly amazing woman,” says travel photography expert and author Deborah Ireland, who compiled a book on Ms. Bird. “She didn’t start learning photography until she was 60 years old. She decided to take up a new profession when most people are considering retirement.


“It was financial necessity that started her travelling,” says Ireland. “At 40, she is thought to be unmarriable and went to Australia. We don’t know for sure but maybe it was thought she could get lucky there, but she just couldn’t handle the heat, the drunk men and the flies, and she tells her sister she must return home.”


“In Hawaii there are none of the social constraints of colonial rule or Victorian moral correctness, and she observed that people can be truly very happy with very little.”

“No one has an adventure like Ms Bird,” crowed The Spectator magazine, in its review of her next release, A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, published in 1879. The book was another hit and includes a timeless description of the charismatic local outlaw Rocky Mountain Jim as “a man any women would fall in love with but who no sane woman would ever marry”.

“No one was writing like this at the time,” says Ireland.”The Volga is a miserable steamer … the ship was damp, dark, dirty, old and cold.”

“Her rivals were staying in five-star accommodation but Isabella could offer her readers danger, dirt and reality,” says Dr Julia Kuehn, of the University of Hong Kong, whose research interests include the travel writing of Victorian women. “This was her ‘wow factor’.”

“People think it witty to ridicule everything Chinese, poke fun at these junks and their ‘pig-tailed’, long-coated crews, but their handling of them is masterly,” writes Bird.

“There is genuine admiration and affection, and she refers to their bravery as they risk losing their footing on steep cliffs adjacent to the river,” says Ireland.

“They are rough, truly, but as the voyage went on, their honest work, pluck, endurance, hardihood, sobriety and good nature won my sympathy and in some sort my admiration,” Bird writes 



Formal portrait photo of Nellie Bly, facing left
ca. 1900 — Here is a formal portrait of Nellie Bly (1867-1922), an American journalist and around the world traveler. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly, born Elizabeth Jane Cochran, she was an American jounralist. Bly’s goal was to beat the fictional Phileas Fogg’s 80-day odyssey, as written in the 1873 novel by Jules Verne. He ambition and drive helped her achieve a new qorld record. It took her only 72 days. Unbeknownst to her—beating out her competitor, Elizabeth Bisland of Cosmopolitan magazine.

“Do you get sea-sick ?” I was asked in an interested, friendly way. That was enough; I flew to the railing.

Sick? I looked blindly down, caring little what the wild waves were saying, and gave vent to my feelings.

Amiens to meet Jules Verne, himself. He wished her luck, saying, “If you do it in seventy-nine days, I shall applaud with both hands.”

Bly writes:

“Lose it? I don’t understand. What do you mean?” I demanded, beginning to think he was mad.

“Aren’t you having a race around the world?” he asked, as if he thought I was not Nellie Bly.

“Yes; quite right. I am running a race with Time,” I replied.

“Time? I don’t think that’s her name.”

“Her! Her!!” I repeated, thinking, “Poor fellow, he is quite unbalanced,” and wondering if I dared wink at the doctor to suggest to him the advisability of our making good our escape.

“Yes, the other woman; she is going to win. She left here three days ago.”

I am not racing with anyone. I would not race. If someone else wants to do the trip in less time, that is their concern. If they take it upon themselves to race against me, it is their lookout that they succeed. I am not racing. I promised to do the trip in seventy-five days, and I will do it; although had I been permitted to make the trip when I first proposed it over a year ago, I should then have done it in sixty days.



Podcast Sources:

“Champion of Her Sex,” New York Sunday World, 2 February 1896, p. 10.

“The Life of Isabella Bird”. The Spectator. London: 6. 26 January 1907.

Bear, David. “Around the World With Nellie Bly.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 26, 2006

Bird, Isabella (1883). The Golden Chersonese and the Way Thither. Archived from the original on 1 July 2012.

Bird, I. L., Ireland, D., & Gardner, R. (2015). Isabella Bird: A photographic journal of travels through China 1894-1896. Lewes, East Sussex, United Kingdom: Ammonite Press.

Foulkes, Debbie (April 5, 2010). “Annie Kopchovsky Londonderry (1870? – 1947) Rode A Bicycle Around the World”

Kroeger, Brooke. Nellie Bly – Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist. Times Books Random House, 1994

Macy, Sue (2011). Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (with a Few Flat Tires Along the Way). Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Children’s Books. pp. 67–69.

Miss Londonderry’s Trip Ended”. New York Times. September 25, 1895

Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey (1986). Women in science: antiquity through the nineteenth century: a biographical dictionary with annotated bibliography(Reprint. ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press

Kroeger, Brooke. Nellie Bly – Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist. Times Books Random House, 1994

Ruddick, Nicholas. “Nellie Bly, Jules Verne, and the World on the Threshold of the American Age.” Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 29, Number 1, 1999, p. 5

Zheutlin, Peter (2007). Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry’s Extraordinary Ride. New York: Citadel.

Zheutlin, Peter. “Chasing Annie: The Woman Who Changed My Life Was Brave, Cunning, Daring And Free — And I Never Met Her”

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