– PEOPLE WORTH REMEMBERING –
Oh, the fascinating life of journalist Nellie Bly! Check out the facts on this pioneer of investigative journalism!
• Bly was born Elizabeth Cochran in Pennsylvania during the American Civil War. Forced to drop out of college due to lack of funds, she discovered a column in a Pittsburgh newspaper that changed her life. The column entitled “What Girls Are Good For” described the meaning of a woman’s life as birthing children and keeping house. Elizabeth penned a fiery reply using a pseudonym “Lonely Orphan Girl.” The managing editor was captivated by her response and ran an ad in the paper requesting that the author come forth. A meeting between the two prompted an offer for another article under her pseudonym. Two articles followed, the first arguing that all women need not marry, along with the necessity for better jobs for women. Number two reported the effects of divorce on women, making a case for divorce law reforms. The editor then offered her a full-time job for $5 a week.
• An 1850 song written by Stephen Foster called “Nellie Bly” was the inspiration for her new pseudonym.
• Nellie set out to focus on the conditions of working women. A series of investigative stories about female factory workers led to complaints from those owners, and Bly was transferred to the paper’s fashion, society, and gardening sections. The strong-minded reporter headed to Mexico as a foreign correspondent, where she spent six months describing the conditions of the people, including their present dictatorship. Threatened with arrest, Bly returned to the States, only to learn that news editors would not hire a woman.
• Finally, the “New York World,” Joseph Pulitzer’s paper took her on for an undercover assignment. Attempting to expose abuse at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on New York’s Blackwell’s Island, the 21-year-old Bly feigned insanity until she was admitted to the facility. Here she discovered appalling conditions, brutality, and neglect, and published her findings in October, 1887. Her report led to a full investigation of the asylum leading to substantial changes to all medical facilities. It also cemented her popularity as a well-known journalist.
• The next assignment for the now-23-year-old was to turn a novel into reality. In Jules Verne’s 1873 novel “Around the World in Eighty Days,” a fictional Phileas Fogg and a companion circumnavigated the glove on a wager. Nellie Bly departed on her 24,900-mile (40,070 km) trek from Hoboken, New Jersey, in November, 1889, and returned 72 days later, setting a record for around-the-world travel. She had traveled alone nearly the entire way aboard all sorts of transportation including ships, horse, rickshaw, and sampan. Along the way, she actually met Jules Verne, her inspiration for the journey.
• Over the next seven years, Bly penned 11 novels. She wrote “Around the World in Seventy-Two Days” in 1890.
• At age 31, Bly married a millionaire manufacturer 42 years her senior, and took on a new career as head of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Company, a producer of boilers and steel containers such as barrels and oil drums. She added inventor to her list of accomplishments, obtaining patents for a stacking garbage can and a unique milk can.
• Following her husband’s death after 15 years of marriage, Bly was back to journalism, reporting on Europe’s Eastern Front in the midst of World War I, which included an arrest on mistaken charges of being a British spy.
• After a lifetime of adventure, Nellie Bly contracted pneumonia and passed away in a New York hospital at age 57.