In Mexico with Nellie Bly

Six Months in Mexico is a book written by Nellie Bly (pen name of Elizabeth Jane Cochrane Seaman, 1864-1922) and published in 1888.

Nellie Bly worked as a columnist at the Pittsburgh Dispatch in the late 1800s, focusing on women’s rights, education, and conditions in the workplace. When pressured by her employers and their advertising sponsors to concentrate on more mundane and socially acceptable topics for a woman journalist, Nellie decided instead to travel to Mexico as a foreign correspondent. There, she wrote and sent back to the Dispatch reports on the country and her travels, which were later published in Six Months in Mexico (read it online, and see excerpts from her Mexican travelogue below). Her outspoken views on the conduct of Mexico’s then president Porfirio Diaz led to her being threatened with imprisonment, and she left the country.

Nellie Bly Six Months in Mexico

After her return to the United States, Nellie suggested to her editor at the New York World the idea of recreating Phileas Fogg’s journey in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. Her whirlwind trip is documented in her book, Around the World in 72 Days (New York, NY, The Pictorial Weeklies Company, 1890)

Nellie Bly is also known for her exposé of the conditions in a women’s insane asylum, for which she faked insanity in order to gain a firsthand view from within the institution. Her experience there was published in Ten Days in a  Mad-House (New York, NY, Ian L Munro, Publisher, 1887).

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World

Bylines: A Photobiography of Nellie Bly (Photobiographies)

Six Months in Mexico

Perusing Nellie Bly’s Six Months in Mexico, I was struck by her fresh and enthusiastic portrayal of Mexico, it people, and its customs. Although the reading is disjointed at times, compiled from a series of letters and reports written and sent over time, we perceive in her writing a struggle between the power of her personal search for rich journalistic expression and the tedium and impatience of her young age. We sense her wrestling to peer through the veils of the social prejudices instilled in her by her upbringing while still being tremendously involved and enmeshed in them as she observes the foreign novelties of Mexico.

Excerpts from Nellie Bly’s Six Months in Mexico

This first excerpt is exceptional. It shows that the gap between the reality and the perception of Mexico from the exterior has not changed in over 100 years! It echoes the lament of those lovers of Mexico who live here today.

[T]he Mexicans have never been represented correctly. Before leaving home I was repeatedly advised that a woman was not safe on the streets of Mexico; that thieves and murderers awaited one at every corner, and all the horrors that could be invented were poured into my timid ear. There are murders committed here, but not half so frequently as in any American city. Some stealing is done, but it is petty work; there are no wholesale robberies like those so often perpetrated at home. The people are courteous, but of course their courtesy differes from ours and the women–I am sorry to say it–are safer here than on our streets, where it is supposed everybody has the advantage of education and civilization.

–Chapter XII

How much I would like to paint the beauties of Mexico in colors so faithful that the people in the States could see what they are losing by not coming here. How I would like to show you the green valley where the heat of summer and the blast of winter never dare approach; where every foot of ground recalls wonderful historical events, extinct races of men and animals, and civilization older by far than the pyramids.

–Chapter X

Continue to Page 2 for more excerpts from Nellie Bly’s Six Months in Mexico.