Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly

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Today, not many Americans will recognize the name Nellie Bly when heard, but things were much different 100 years ago. It would have been very difficult to find any American that had not heard of the famous Nellie Bly. Nellie Bly burst on the scene at the turn of the century when journalism was considered only a man's world. Nellie Bly helped to launch a new kind of investigative journalism into the world.
Elizabeth Jane Cochran was born on May 5, 1864 in Cochran Mills, Pennsylvania. She was the thirteenth child of her family and considered the most rebellious of the family. When Nellie was just six years old her father abruptly died, leaving her mother to raise fifteen children. (Around the World in 72 Days). The death of her father was a terrible financial blow to the family because her father left no will to protect the family's interests. A year after the death the family was forced to auction off the mansion and move to a more modest home. Nellie helped her mother take care of the other children, but still they came into very hard times. (Around the World in 72 Days). Elizabeth's mother desperately sought financial security so she remarried. She entered a very disastrous marriage to an abusive man. He often beat Elizabeth and her mother. Soon after the marriage began she sued for divorce and Elizabeth testified at the trial. "My stepfather has been generally drunk since he married my mother, When drunk he is very cross and cross when sober." (Around the World in 72 Days). Elizabeth soon sought an independent life and wanted a way to support her mother. She started attending the Indiana Normal School to become a teacher. While attending school Elizabeth decided to add an ‘e' to her last name for sophistication. (Nellie Bly, Wikipedia). After one semester of schooling Elizabeth had to drop out because she didn't have enough money to continue schooling. Elizabeth then moved back to Pittsburgh with her mother. She stayed there for the next seven years but had a difficult time finding full-time work because there were only low paid jobs available to women at that time. (Nellie Bly, USA History).
Elizabeth always had the dream of becoming a writer one day, she did not realize however just how close she was to reaching her long held dream.

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It all started one day in 1885 when she read a series column in the Pittsburgh Dispatch. (Nellie Bly, USA History). The article was entitled "What Girls Are Good For" by Erasmus Wilson. Wilson wrote that women belonged only at home doing sewing, cooking, and raising children. He said that a working woman was "a monstrosity." (Around the World in 72 Days). Once Elizabeth read this article she was outraged, because she was very familiar with just how hard women had to work to survive. She quickly wrote back a letter to the newspaper protesting everything the editor had said. George Madden at the Pittsburgh Dispatch was so impressed with the spirit of her writing that he decided to give her a job. (Nellie Bly, Wikipedia). There they gave her the pen name "Nellie Bly," after the Stephen foster song. (Around the World in 72 Days).
At the age of eighteen, Bly wrote her first story about difficulties of poor working girls in Pittsburgh, slum life, and things of other concern. This story marked her a reporter of ingenuity and concern. (Bly, Nellie). Nellie's second article was on divorce based interviews and arguing to reform the state's divorce and marriage laws. (Nellie Bly, USA History). Madden was very impressed with her article, so he hired her as a full-time reporter. Following this she did a series of investigative articles about factory girls in Pittsburgh. Despite her efforts, editors at the paper moved her to the women's page and assigned her stories such as to cover fashion and flower shows, the usual role for female journalists of that time. (Nellie Bly, Wikipedia). Nellie found a way out of writing these stories by convincing the editors to let her travel to Mexico and be their foreign correspondent. (Around the World in 72 Days). There at the age of twenty-one she spent almost half a year reporting about the everyday lives and customs of Mexican people. The reports she sent back were on official corruption and the conditions of the poor. Nellie's critical angles angered Mexican officials and caused them to expel her from the country. (Bly, Nellie). Her findings were later collected and put into her first book called Six Months in Mexico. (Dennison). When she returned the Pittsburgh Dispatch once again confined her to writing on the women's page. Nellie had enough, she decided to leave the Dispatch and go on to New York City. She left a note on Wilson's desk that read, "Dear Q.O., I'm off for New York. Look out for me. Bly." (Around the World in 72 Days). For nearly six months Nellie tried getting a job at one of New York's newspaper companies. Finally, she talked her way into the office of John Cockerill, who was the managing editor of Joseph Pulitzer's "New York World," at the time. (Around the World in 72 Days). There Nellie was given an undercover assignment in which she was to fake insanity and investigate how the mentally ill were treated. Nellie impersonated a mad person for ten days and came back with some very grueling stories. She experienced everything first hand, the food, the rude abusive nurses, and the ice cold conditions. (Nellie Bly, Wikipedia). Nellie wrote, "The insane asylum on Blackwell's Island is a human rat-trap. It is easy to get in, but once there it is impossible to get out." (Nellie Bly, USA History). New York City officials were embarrassed by her findings and took action to approve funds and improve treatment. Bly's articles were later revised and published in her second book Ten Days in a Madhouse. (Dennison).
In the years to come Nellie continued to use undercover journalism to expose injustice about women's conditions in factories, shops, prisons, and many more. Bly always sided with the poor and her personality was always greatly part of her stories. She always included feelings, observations, and her reactions in whatever she was writing about. Nellie became the best-known woman journalist during these times. (Around the World in 72 Days).
The height of Bly's career had not yet been reached. Nellie's peak of fame began on November 14, 1889, when she began her record breaking trip around the world. After Nellie read the book Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, she suggested that the newspaper finance an attempt to break the record. (Nellie Bly, USA History). Joseph Pulitzer liked the idea and it was decided that Nellie would be the reporter chosen for the journey. The New York World built up the story by holding a guessing contest for how long it would take Nellie to circle the globe. (Bly, Nellie). There were almost one million entries in the contest. Bly traveled by ship, train, rickshaws, sampans, horses, and burros. She visited places such as England, Japan, Hong Kong, Colombo, and San Francisco. (Nellie Bly, Wikipedia). When Bly finally arrived back to New York she was greeted by a massive crowd, brass bands, and fireworks. Her time was 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes, and 14 seconds. Nellie was the first woman to travel around the world unaccompanied without a man at all times. This record breaking event made her not only famous, but a role model for women everywhere. (Nellie Bly, Wikipedia). Later she published her third book titled Nellie Bly's Book: Around the Work in 72 Days. (Dennison).
In 1895, at the age of 30, Bly married 70 year old millionaire industrialist Robert Seaman. (Nellie Bly Daredevil Reporter). They lived in New York City and Nellie helped him manage his manufacturing company until his death ten years later. After his death Nellie took over as president and the company flourished. In 1911 embezzlers caused the company to go nearly bankrupt. Only a very long series of court battles saved the company. Nearly three years later Nellie decided to return to journalism. (Nellie Bly Daredevil Reporter). She began covering World War I in Europe for the New York Evening Journal. Nellie was the first female reporter to go to the front lines during the war. She wrote, "One motionless creature had his cap on his head…Great black circles were around his sunken eyes. Black hollows were around his nose and his ears were black." (Nellie Bly Daredevil Reporter). After returning back home Nellie wrote a regular column for the New York Evening Journal. Her focus was on helping abandoned children. She continued this until her death in 1922 of pneumonia, at the age of 58. (Around the World in 72 Days).
Nellie Bly's push and get there style helped to change the way journalist did their jobs. She is a great example of why women should have equal opportunities. Nellie Bly American journalist, industrialist, author, researcher, reformer, whatever you know her by she was a great representation and achievement for women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of her famous quotes, "Energy rightly applied can accomplish anything." (Nellie Bly Daredevil Reporter).
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