Nellie Bly

Essay by ny11rangers94Junior High, 9th gradeA, November 2008

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“I had looked forward so eagerly to leaving the horrible place, yet when my release came and I knew that God's sunlight was to be free for me again, there was a certain pain in leaving." – Nellie BlyNellie Bly was born on May 5, 1864 in Cochran's Mills, Pennsylvania in the home of Mary Jane and Judge Michael Cochran. She was an author, American journalist, charity worker, and industrialist. Nellie focused her journalistic attention on women's rights issues. She was the inventor of investigative reporting and an expert at under-cover work. She posed as a poor sweatshop worker to expose the cruelty and dire conditions under which women worked. As well, she is famous for pretending to be insane in order to study a women’s mental institution from the inside. She is also well-known for her record-breaking trip around the world.

Nellie Bly was born with the name Elizabeth Jane Cochran.

She was given the nickname “Pink” because of the bright pink gown her mother had her wear. Her father, Judge Michael Cochran, died when she was six years old. The Judge, although an important and honorable member of the community, died without a will, leaving his wife without claim to the property and forcing the auction of his estate. The family moved to a modest home and Pink took on the responsibility of helping raise her siblings. Her mother remarried three years later in hope of securing the well-being of her children, but, unfortunately, Pink's step-father was abusive. As a result, her mother sued for divorce when Elizabeth was fourteen years old.

In 1880, when Elizabeth Jane Cochran was about 18, her family moved to Pittsburgh. There she wrote an anonymous letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch in response to a sexist editorial by the "Quiet Observer," Erasmus Wilson. George Madden, managing editor of the Dispatch was so impressed by the letter, signed "Lonely Orphan Girl," that he placed an ad in the Sunday paper asking that she introduce herself. The following day, Pink climbed the four stories of stairs to the offices of the Pittsburgh Dispatch and started her first job as a journalist. Pink's first article was a rebuttal to Wilson's sexist piece on the "women's sphere." When Madden decided to make Pink a permanent member of his staff, he needed to come up with a pen name for her, because it was improper for a woman to write for a newspaper and make her identity known to the public. After several suggestions from the newsroom workers, Madden chose Nellie Bly, the title character in the song "Nelly Bly" written 35 years earlier by Stephen Collins Foster.

Nellie Bly then moved on to New York’s New York World where her first assignment was to report on the life inside the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island. This adventurous and daring stunt propelled Bly into the limelight of New York journalism. It also launched the "stunt age" where women risked their reputation along with their lives to break into the men's world of the press. Nellie continued her undercover "stunt" reporting for the New York World until the fall of 1888. During a round table meeting among the New York World's executives, it was suggested to send a man around the world in less than 80 days. Nellie threatened to do it in less time for another newspaper if they did not agree to send her instead.

On November 14, 1889, Nellie Bly began her world-wide journey on the Hamburg-American Company liner Augusta Victoria, from the Hoboken Pier at exactly 9:40:30 a.m. Bly's travel experiences were published daily in the New York World. Seventy-two days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds after her Hoboken departure, Nellie arrived home. She was greeted with fireworks, parades, and brass bands.

In 1895, Nellie Bly married millionaire manufacturer Robert Seaman who was 72. She retired from journalism, and after her husband's death in 1904, she took over the management of his companies. For a time Nellie was one of the leading women industrialists in the United States, but mismanagement forced her into bankruptcy. This forced Nellie Bly back into reporting, she then covered such events as the women's suffrage convention in 1913. Nellie also covered stories on Europe's Eastern Front during World War I. At the age of 57, Nellie Bly died of pneumonia at St. Mark's Hospital in New York City on January 27, 1922 at 8:35 a.m. All of the New York newspapers acknowledged her passing with elaborate obituaries.

Nellie Bly’s writings focused mostly on women's rights issues and fighting injustice. She was respected by her bosses because her stories sold newspapers, but they also increased public awareness of social problems. She exposed corruption in both the public and private regions which made the public demand social reform. In addition Nellie Bly allowed the troubles of unwed mothers and women citywide to be heard. In doing so, Nellie Bly became a legendary spokesperson for all women.

Works CitedChampanier, Linda. “ Nellie Bly.” Nellie Bly, Pioneer Woman Journalist. 16 Nov. 2008. 16 Nov. 2008 .

Gazzillo, Rosemary. “Nellie Bly 1864 - 1922.” Nellie Bly. 10 Dec. 1998. 29 Nov. 2006 .

“Nellie Bly.” National Women’s Hall of Fame. 16 Nov. 2008. 16 Nov. 2008 .