Matthew Goodman is the author of two other nonfiction books, The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York and Jewish Food: The World at Table. The recipient of two MacDowell fellowships and one Yaddo fellowship, he has taught creative writing at numerous universities and workshops. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and children.
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Excerpt from book:
A Free American Girl
Nellie bly was born elizabeth jane cochran in western pennsyl-vania on May 5, 1864, though confusion about her exact age would persist throughout her life—a good deal of that confusion engineered by Bly herself, for she was never quite as young as she claimed to be. When she began her race around the world, in November of 1889, Bly was twenty-five years old, but estimates of her age among the nation’s newspapers ranged from twenty to twenty-four; according to her own newspaper, The World, she was “about twenty-three.”
The town in which she grew up, Apollo, Pennsylvania, was a small, nondescript sort of place, not much different from countless other mill towns carved out of hemlock and spruce, unassuming enough that even the author of a history of Apollo felt obliged to explain in the book’s foreword, “It is not necessary to be a city of the first class to fill the niche in the hearts of the people or the history of the state. Besides it is our town.” On its main street stood a general store (where one could buy everything from penny candy to plowshares), a drugstore, a slaughterhouse, a blacksmith shop, and several taverns; the town would not have a bank until 1871. In the winters there was sledding and skating, and when the warmer weather came the children of the town liked to roll barrel hoops down the hill to the canal bridge and to fish the Kiskiminetas River, which had not yet been contaminated by runoff from the coal mines and iron mills being built nearby.
Elizabeth was born to Michael and Mary Jane Cochran, the third of five children and the elder of two daughters. She was known to everyone in town as “Pink”; it was a nickname she came by early on, arising from her mother’s predilection to dress her in pink clothing, in sharp contrast to the drab browns and grays worn by the other local children. Pink seems to have been a high-spirited, rather headstrong girl, though much of what is known of her early years comes from her own recollections in publicity stories written after she became famous, at least some of which seem designed mainly to burnish the already developing legend of the intrepid young journalist. One story published in The World, for instance (the headline of which claimed to provide her “authentic biography”), told how she was an insatiable reader as a girl, and how she herself wrote scores of stories, scribbling them in the flyleaves of books and on whatever scraps of paper she could find. Nights she lay awake in bed, her mind aflame with imagined stories of heroes and heroines, fairy tales and romances: “So active was the child’s brain and so strongly her faculties eluded sleep that her condition became alarming and she had to be placed under the care of physicians.” The World ’s professions of Bly’s childhood love for reading and writing, though, are not to be found in other accounts, and in the family history, Chronicles of the Cochrans: Being a Series of Historical Events and Narratives in Which the Members of This Family Have Played a Prominent Part, one of her relatives commented somewhat tartly that among the teachers in Apollo’s sole schoolhouse, Pink Cochran “acquired more conspicuous notice for riotous conduct than profound scholarship.”
Pink&rsq“What a story! What an extraordinary historical adventure!”—Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire
“A fun, fast, page-turning action-adventure . . . the exhilarating journey of two pioneering women, Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, as they race around the globe.”—Karen Abbott, author of American Rose
“The true story of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, two journalists racing to see who could circle the globe first—and faster than any man before them—is as riveting now as it was when it captivated the nation in 1889.”—Parade
“Matthew Goodman takes readers on a riveting ride back to 1889 for the original amazing race. . . . Goodman’s eighteen months of meticulous research and his compelling narrative nonfiction being their stories to life in vivid period detail.”—American Way
“Lively and vivid . . . Goodman is a master storyteller, with no agenda to push, and his armchair tour is a treat to read.”—The Columbus Dispatch
“In his delightful, well-researched book . . . Matthew Goodman brings to life the two women, the complicated, fast-changing times and the way the whole country was swept up in their parallel adventures. This is fully documented history, drawing on contemporary accounts, letters and the women’s own writing, but Goodman crafts it into a page-turner.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Matthew Goodman’s truly exciting account of [Bly’s and Bisland’s] journeys . . . is also quite a fun trip for his readers. He has the gift of turning meticulous research into vividly imagined details. . . . A fully satisfying portrait of the era.”—Bust magazine
“[Eighty Days] is a dazzling tour of the world at a time when travel routes were just opening up; a look at sensationalist journalism and pop culture in pre-Kardashian America; and a testimony to how hard women had to fight to get work and achieve respect as journalists.”—BookPage
“The story’s engaging, the writing gripping, and the treatment—how Bly and Bisland are praised for combating sexism and denigrated for ignoring classism and embracing imperialism—is as clear-eyed as you can get. Well worth a read.”—The Literary Omnivore
“Deftly mixing social history into an absorbing travel epic, Goodman conveys the exuberant dynamism of a very unfusty Victorian era obsessed with speed, power, publicity, and the breaking of every barrier.”—Publishers Weekly
“A richly detailed double narrative of the adventures of two young women journalists in a race against time . . . entertaining and readable throughout.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Goodman writes exceedingly well. . . . Delightful . . . solid history . . . filled with energizing details. History lovers will eat it up.”—Library Journal
From the Hardcover edition.