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Elizabeth Bisland

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Elizabeth Bisland Wetmore
Elizabeth Bisland circa 1891
Elizabeth Bisland

(1861-02-11)February 11, 1861
St. Mary Parish, Louisiana
DiedJanuary 6, 1929(1929-01-06) (aged 67)
SpouseCharles B. Wetmore (October 6, 1854 – June 1, 1919)[1][2][3][4]
Parent(s)Thomas Shields Bisland (1837–1908)[5] and Margaret (Brownson) Bisland (m. June 24, 1858)

Elizabeth Bisland Wetmore (February 11, 1861 – January 6, 1929) was an American journalist and author, perhaps now best known for her 1889–1890 race around the world against Nellie Bly, which drew worldwide attention. The majority of her writings were literary works. She published all of her works as Elizabeth Bisland.

Early career[edit]

Bisland was born on Fairfax Plantation, St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, on February 11, 1861. During the Civil War, the family fled the homestead prior to the Battle of Fort Bisland. Life was difficult when they returned, and when she was twelve the family moved to Natchez, Louisiana, site of her father's family home that he had inherited.[6]

She began her writing career as a teenager, sending poetry to the New Orleans Times Democrat using the pen name B. L. R. Dane.[6][7][8] Once her writing activity was revealed to her family and the editor of the paper, she was paid for the work, and she soon went to New Orleans to work for the paper.[6]

Around 1887, Bisland moved to New York City[9] and got her first work from The Sun newspaper.[6] By 1889 she was doing work for a number of publications, including the New York World.[6] Among other outlets, she later become an editor at Cosmopolitan magazine and she also contributed to the Atlantic Monthly and the North American Review.[10]

Journey around the world[edit]

Elizabeth Bisland on a ship's deck during her around-the-world race against Nellie Bly

In November 1889, the New York World announced that it was sending its reporter Nellie Bly around the world, in a bid to beat Phileas Fogg's fictitious 80-day journey in Jules Verne's novel Around the World in Eighty Days.[11] Catching wind of this publicity stunt, John Brisben Walker, who had just purchased the three-year-old and still-fledgling Cosmopolitan, decided to dispatch Bisland on her own journey.[12]

Ultimately, however, Bly triumphed over Bisland. Critically, while in England, Bisland was told (and apparently believed) she had missed her intended ride, the swift German steamer Ems leaving from Southampton, even though her publisher had bribed the shipping company to delay its departure. It is unknown whether she was intentionally deceived.[13] She was thus forced to catch the slow-going Bothnia on January 18, departing from Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland, ensuring that Bly would prevail.[14][15][16][17][18]

Bisland's ship did not arrive in Manhattan until January 30. She completed her trip in 7612 days, also well ahead of Fogg's fictional record.[19] Bisland wrote a series of articles for the Cosmopolitan on her journey, subsequently published as a book entitled, In Seven Stages: A Flying Trip Around The World (1891).[20][21][22]

Later career[edit]

Bisland's writing was of a more literary nature than her participation in the world race might indicate (and her writings were a clear contrast from the more swashbuckling style of Bly's writings on her trip). Indeed, her 1929 New York Times obituary failed to even mention the journey,[10] and she focused her writing on more serious topics after "the race". In 1906, she published the well-received The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn;[23] she had first met Hearn when both were living in New Orleans in the 1880s.[6]

She co-wrote with Anne Hoyt Seekers in Sicily, which was written before, but published after, the 1908 Messina earthquake.

Bisland's final book, Three Wise Men of the East (1930), was published posthumously.[24]

Personal life[edit]

Bisland married lawyer Charles Whitman Wetmore in 1891,[10][25] however, she continued to publish books under her maiden name. The couple constructed a noted summer residence called Applegarth (on Long Island's North Shore) in 1892.[1][26][27][28]

Bisland died of pneumonia near Charlottesville, Virginia on January 6, 1929, and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City,[10] coincidentally, in the same cemetery as Bly, who also died of pneumonia in 1922.[29]

Selected bibliography[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

Although Bisland is far less remembered than Bly,[30] the race between the two has been the subject of two works of popular history and one musical theatre production:

  • Goodman, Matthew (October 2013). "Elizabeth Bisland's Race Around the World". Public Domain Review.
  • Marks, Jason. Around the World in 72 Days: The race between Pulitzer's Nellie Bly and Cosmopolitan's Elizabeth Bisland (Gemittarius Press 1993) (ISBN 978-0-9633696-2-8)
  • DiFabbio, Marialena and Jones, Susannah. Bisland and Bly. Sycamore Theatre Company, 2018.[31][32]


  1. ^ a b MacKay, Robert B. et al. (eds.) Long Island country houses and their architects, 1860–1940 (1997) (ISBN 978-0-393-03856-9)
  2. ^ Necrology, The Harvard Graduates Magazine, September 1919, p. 185 (listing death of death for Charles Wetmore)
  3. ^ Charles Whitman Wetmore, Harvard College, Class of 1875, Secretary's Report No. VII, p.99-100 (1899)
  4. ^ Harrison, Mitchell C. Prominent and Progressive Americans, Vol. II, p.225-27 (1904) (three-page biography of Charles Whitman Wetmore, noting his law partnership with former Civil War General Francis C. Barlow and later position as president of North American Company)
  5. ^ "Thomas Sheilds Bisland Dead". The New York Times. July 18, 1908.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Verdery, Katherine. Elizabeth Bisland Wetmore, in Library of Southern Literature, p.5767-72 (1910)
  7. ^ Bradshaw, Jim. Acadiana Diary: St. Mary journalist competed with Bly, The Daily Advertiser, April 2, 2006
  8. ^ Bradshaw, Jim. Elizabeth Bisland raced Nellie Bly around world, The Daily Advertiser, August 3, 2008
  9. ^ Bright Women These: Sketches and Portraits of Some Daughters of the South, The Day, January 2, 1891
  10. ^ a b c d "MRS. E.B. WETMORE, AUTHOR, DIES IN SOUTH; Former Elizabeth Bisland of This City to Be Buried in Woodlawn Today". The New York Times. January 9, 1929.
  11. ^ "When Cosmopolitan Sent A Victorian Lady To Race Around The Globe". Popular Science. Retrieved August 24, 2017.
  12. ^ Roggenkamp, Karen S.H. Dignified Sensationalism: Elizabeth Bisland, Cosmopolitan, and Trips Around the World Archived January 12, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, presented at "Writing the Journey: A Conference on American, British, & Anglophone Writers and Writing" University of Pennsylvania, June 10–13, 1999
  13. ^ Abrams, Alan. Gold among the summer's dross, Toledo Blade, September 5, 1993
  14. ^ Round Went Nelly, Daily Argus News, January 25, 1890
  15. ^ Arrival of Elizabeth Bisland: Although Beaten by Neille Bly She Succeeds in Lowering Phiness Fogg's Record Archived November 4, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, Chicago Tribune, January 31, 1890
  16. ^ ELIZABETH BISLAND AND NELLIE BLY: The Globe-Trotting Race Between the Two Rapidly Nearing Its End Archived November 4, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, Chicago Tribune, January 18, 1890
  17. ^ Woman Against Woman: "Nellie Bly" and Miss Bisland go racing around the world, Aurora Daily Express, November 27, 1889
  19. ^ Miss Bisland Arrives: Her Trip Around the World in 7612 days, The New York Times, January 31, 1890
  20. ^ Bandel, Betty. Nellie Bly's Rival (letter to editor), The New York Times, February 7, 1971
  21. ^ Marks, Jason. Around the World in 72 Days: The race between Pulitzer's Nellie Bly and Cosmopolitan's Elizabeth Bisland (Gemittarius Press 1993) (ISBN 978-0-9633696-2-8)
  22. ^ Wong, Edlie L. Around the World and across the Board: Nellie Bly and the Geography of Games, in American literary geographies: spatial practice and cultural production, 1500–1900, pp. 296–324 (Brückner, Martin & Hus, Hsuan L., eds.) (2007) (ISBN 978-0-87413-980-8)
  23. ^ Huneker, James (December 1, 1906). "EXOTIC LAFCADIO HEARN; The Life and Letters of a Master of Nuance – Elizabeth Bisland's Sympathetic Biography" (PDF). The New York Times.
  24. ^ Feld, Rose C. (May 3, 1931). "Three Oriental Sages (book review)]". The New York Times. (note: abstract)
  25. ^ "Heard in the Smoking Room" (PDF). The New York Times. March 22, 1903. (stating that Wetmore graduated from Harvard in 1875; other records show he obtained an L.L.B. as well in 1877)
  26. ^ Aspinwall, J. Lawrence (March 1903). "Applegarth: Residence of Chas B. Wetmore, Esq., Center Island, Oyster Bay, L.I." Architectural Record. pp. 279–291.
  27. ^ Bisland, Elizabeth (October 1910). "The Building of Applegarth". Country Life in America. pp. 657–660.
  28. ^ Goodman, Matthew, Elizabeth Bisland's Race Around the World, The Public Domain Review, October 16, 2013 with image of Applegarth
  29. ^ "Elizabeth Bisland". Nellie Bly in the Sky. November 4, 2014. Retrieved November 29, 2015.
  30. ^ Kilmer, Paulette D. Flying Around the World in 1889 - In Search of the Archetypal Wanderer, in American Journalism (Spring (1999)
  31. ^ "Bisland and Bly". New York Musical Festival. July 2019.
  32. ^ "Sycamore Theatre Company". Retrieved July 18, 2019.

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