Wednesday, November 14, 2012

November 14: Nellie Bly

On this date in History ... 1889:

Female pioneer journalist Nellie Bly begins her “Around the World in 80 Days” trip to meet or beat the fictional journey of Jules Vernes’ Phineas Fogg. She made the trip, at only 25 years old, unchaperoned, & arrived back in New York with eight days to spare.

Bly’s rise to fame came w/ her exposé stories on the plight of working women. Her big exposé was on the mental hospital where she posed as a patient for ten days, coming back w/ stories of cruel beatings, ice baths & rancid food. The stories prompted an investigation & resulted with an increased budget to provide better care for the patients.

Nellie Bly was born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in Cochran Mills, PA.  Yes, the town was named after her father, a judge and wealthy landowner/businessman. Nellie was the 13th of 15 children (with two wives) and was considered “the most rebellious child in the family.” (source:

Her father died when she was six and since his will made no provision for his second family, her mother ended up marrying a drunk who abused them.  At the age of 15, she went to Indiana Normal School to be a teacher. (Teaching schools were referred to as “Normal” in those days.) But the money ran out after just one semester.

She moved back to Pittsburgh to live with her mother and observed the hard work and terrible conditions that women had to endure to earn a living. She was therefore livid when she read a newspaper column that stated a woman belonged in the home cleaning and cooking and referred to a working woman as “a monstrosity”. She fired an angry letter to the editor who was so impressed with her writing that he hired her. But in spite of her investigative talents, she was assigned to the flower show and women’s pages.

She left the paper and went to New York where she finally convinced the New  York World to give her a try and whether out of sincerity or spite, she was assigned to investigate insane asylums. With her success at the asylum story she had, at the age of 23, pioneering undercover reporting that some called stunt-reporting.

When she was 30, she married a 70-year old industrialist and they were married for 10 years before he died.  She went back to being a reporter until the day she died at the age of 57.

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