Nellie Bly 1864- 1922
Nellie Bly was the pen name for Elizabeth Cochran, an American journalist in the 19th century. Early in life, Nellie was left poor when her father died without a will. Nellie and her mother had to find a way to support themselves, so they moved to Pittsburg to run a boarding house. They lived there quietly until Nellie turned 18.
Erasmus Wilson was an influential scholar who wrote and published a piece in The Pittsburg Dispatch about the need for women to work at home, calling the working woman a “monstrosity.” Nellie wrote a stinging rebuttal and sent it to the paper. Her piece caught the attention of the paper’s editor who offered the job. Nellie adopted her pen name and got to work. She wrote for the paper for a while but when she was moved to the largely ignored “women’s page.” Nellie sought work elsewhere.
She moved to New York and was hired by the New York World. For that paper she wrote the article she is probably best known for, investigating the conditions at the mental institution on Blackwell’s Island. Wanting the most accurate possible story, Nellie feigned illness to be admitted to the asylum.
She wrote about her stay in the hospital and her story was met with massive success. She uncovered abusive behavior toward the patients that was investigated and resulted in massive improvements. This was the beginning of her career of investigative work. She went undercover in jails and factories, investigated politicians and even interviewed and wrote about prominent women such as Susan B. Anthony.
In 1889, Nellie was inspired by Jules Verne's novel Around the World in Eighty Days to beat the record set by the fictional protagonist. She traveled by ship, horse, rickshaw, sampan, burro and other vehicles and completed the trip in 72 days. The trip brought Nellie international fame and she later published a book about her experiences, Around the World in 72 Days.
Nellie married at thirty and retired the same year. She only began writing again when her husband died, this time for the New York Journal. She died at the age of 57 of pneumonia.