Digging through history, for women who walked against the grain of what they were told was their lot in life, I came across the name Nellie Bly. The more I read the more fascinated I became. She is alive and well in the multitudes who have followed in her footsteps.
I love this woman. She defied the odds of standing out and standing up for equal rights. She really “put herself” in great peril by taking on the assignments she did. I hope you take a little time to read more of her extraordinary legacy beyond journalism.
As a teenager, her mother moved the family to Pittsburgh after the death of her father. A local newspaper column entitled “What Girls Are Good For,” in the Pittsburgh Dispatch, implied that girls were only good for birthing children and keeping house, prompted Elizabeth to write a response under the pseudonym “Lonely Orphan Girl.” The stage was set. The Editor, impressed with her letter, asked her to continue writing articles. Women were employed as writers but used “pen names” and the editor chose for her the name Nellie Bly, after a popular song of the time by Stephen Foster.
She started as an investigative reporter on working women’s issues, but soon was reassigned to the “women pages” to cover fashion, society, and gardening, the usual role for women journalists. This would not do, so she went to Mexico as a foreign correspondent and after six months fled home to America after her scathing reports on the cruel dictatorship threatened her arrest. The dispatches led to a book called “Six Months in Mexico.”
Shortly after returning home Nellie moved to New York and got the attention of Joseph Pulitzer and his paper the New York World. She took an assignment for which she agreed to feign insanity to investigate reports of brutality and neglect at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island.
After ten days the asylum released Bly at The World’s behest. Her report, later published in book form as Ten Days in a Mad-House, caused a sensation and brought her lasting fame. While physicians and staff worked to explain how she had deceived so many professionals, a grand jury launched its own investigation into conditions at the asylum, inviting Bly to assist. The jury’s report recommended the changes she had proposed. Its call for
increased funds for care of the insane prompted an $850,000 increase in the budget of the Department of Public Charities and Corrections. The grand jury also made sure that future examinations were more thorough so that only the seriously ill went to the asylum.
In 1888, Nellie suggested to her editor an idea to circumvent the globe in under 80 days. Jules Verne’s novel was now a best seller and the idea sparked a challenge with a rival paper. 24,899 miles and 72 days later she arrived back in New York, where she began her journey by heading east. Another challenger set off heading west and arrived a few days after Bly.
In 1998 Elizabeth Cochran was inducted into “National Women’s Hall of Fame” and was one of four journalists honored with a U.S postage stamp in a “Women in Journalism” set in 2002. Much has been written and borrowed from her legacy.
Do you have a hero woman journalist or writer?
To learn more of this extraordinary women, here is the Wikipedia link. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nellie_Bly