Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly: Pioneering journalist, fearless adventurer

In the late 19th century, a daring and trailblazing journalist emerged on the scene, challenging the conventions of her time and reshaping the landscape of investigative reporting. Nellie Bly, born Elizabeth Cochran Seaman on May 5, 1864, in Cochran’s Mills, Pennsylvania, was a woman ahead of her time. Her remarkable career spanned various roles, from an undercover investigative reporter to a world traveler, and her impact on journalism and women’s rights has left an enduring legacy. This article by Academic Block delves into the life, adventures, and legacy of Nellie Bly.

Early Life

Nellie Bly’s journey into journalism began with an anonymous letter to the Pittsburgh Dispatch, a local newspaper, responding to an article titled “What Girls Are Good For.” The article argued that women should confine themselves to the home and family life. In her passionate rebuttal, Bly argued for the intellectual capabilities of women and urged the paper to consider the potential of women in roles beyond domesticity.

Impressed by the letter, the editor of the Dispatch, George Madden, published an advertisement inviting the unknown author to reveal herself. Nellie Bly took up the challenge, and her first published article, “The Girl Puzzle,” was a poignant piece challenging the stereotypes of women’s roles. Recognizing her talent and passion, Madden offered her a full-time position at the newspaper, and Nellie Bly’s career in journalism officially began.

Undercover Reporting: The Insane Asylum

Nellie Bly’s groundbreaking work in investigative journalism came to the forefront when she posed as a mentally ill patient to expose the deplorable conditions at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island) in New York City. In 1887, she feigned madness and got herself committed to the asylum, where she spent ten days documenting the harsh treatment, neglect, and appalling conditions that patients endured.

Her series of articles, later compiled into the book “Ten Days in a Mad-House,” shocked the public and prompted widespread reforms in the treatment of mentally ill patients. Bly’s fearless approach to investigative reporting not only revealed the dark underbelly of the mental health system but also established her as a pioneer in the field of undercover journalism.

Around the World in 72 Days

One of Nellie Bly’s most famous exploits was her attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days or less, inspired by Jules Verne’s novel “Around the World in Eighty Days.” In 1889, at the age of 25, Bly set out on this ambitious journey, aiming to break the fictional record and prove that a woman could match or even surpass the fictional exploits of Phileas Fogg.

Equipped with only a small travel bag, a coat, and a few toiletries, Bly began her journey on November 14, 1889, traveling by steamship and train. Along the way, she faced numerous challenges, from delays and missed connections to language barriers and cultural differences. Despite these obstacles, Nellie Bly persevered, and on January 25, 1890, she arrived back in New York City, completing her journey in just 72 days, a feat that captured the world’s attention.

Her triumphant return was met with widespread acclaim, and Nellie Bly became a global sensation. Her journey not only shattered stereotypes about women’s capabilities but also showcased the power of determination and resilience. The record-breaking adventure solidified her status as a fearless and intrepid journalist, earning her a place in history.

Women’s Rights Advocate

Beyond her groundbreaking achievements in journalism, Nellie Bly was a staunch advocate for women’s rights. Her fearless pursuit of truth and justice extended beyond the pages of newspapers and into the realm of social reform. Bly’s writings often tackled issues such as gender inequality, workers’ rights, and the challenges faced by women in the workforce.

In an era when women were fighting for the right to vote and challenging societal expectations, Bly’s work served as a powerful catalyst for change. Her unapologetic stance on women’s equality and her refusal to conform to traditional gender roles inspired many women to pursue careers outside the home and advocate for their rights in society.

Final Years

The final years of Nellie Bly’s life were marked by continued achievements, personal challenges, and a commitment to social reform. After her groundbreaking achievements in journalism, Bly’s career took various turns as she explored new opportunities and continued to advocate for causes close to her heart.

Marriage and Family Life

In 1895, Nellie Bly married millionaire industrialist Robert Seaman, who was more than 40 years her senior. Seaman was the owner of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co., a company that produced steel containers such as milk cans and boilers. The marriage allowed Bly to step away from journalism for a time and focus on her family life. She became involved in her husband’s business, demonstrating her versatility and adaptability in different fields.

Tragically, Robert Seaman passed away in 1904, leaving Nellie Bly in a challenging financial situation. Despite the difficulties, Bly demonstrated resilience and resourcefulness in managing her late husband’s business affairs.

Return to Journalism

After her husband’s death, Nellie Bly returned to journalism, taking over the management of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co. She continued to write columns for the New York Evening Journal, showcasing her skill as a versatile and prolific writer. Bly also lent her voice to social causes, addressing issues such as workers’ rights, the conditions of the poor, and the need for social reform.

Her commitment to investigative reporting did not wane, and she continued to expose societal issues that demanded attention. Bly’s later work maintained the same level of passion and dedication that had characterized her earlier years in journalism.

Lasting Impact on Journalism and Women’s Rights

In the final years of her life, Nellie Bly’s impact on journalism and women’s rights continued to resonate. Her legacy inspired subsequent generations of journalists, particularly women, to pursue truth, challenge conventions, and advocate for social change. Bly’s work laid the foundation for the kind of investigative journalism that seeks to expose corruption, champion justice, and hold those in power accountable.

Bly’s fearless spirit and unyielding commitment to justice left an indelible mark on the field of journalism. Her influence can be seen in the evolving landscape of media, where reporters strive to emulate her courage and dedication to the public good.

Controversies related to Nellie Bly

While Nellie Bly is primarily celebrated for her groundbreaking contributions to journalism and her advocacy for social reform, there were a few controversies and criticisms associated with her career. Here are some notable points of contention:

Sensationalism and Stunt Journalism: Nellie Bly was known for her use of sensationalism and what could be termed as “stunt journalism.” Her undercover investigations, such as the one at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island, were criticized by some as sensational and theatrical. Critics argued that her methods prioritized shock value over objective reporting.

Competing with Elizabeth Bisland: During her famous trip around the world in 72 days, Nellie Bly’s journey was not the only one capturing headlines. Another journalist, Elizabeth Bisland, set out on a similar journey in the opposite direction. The competition between the two women, orchestrated by their respective publications (New York World for Bly and Cosmopolitan for Bisland), raised questions about the ethics of turning a serious journalistic endeavor into a publicity stunt.

Personal Attacks on Other Journalists: Nellie Bly was known for her strong opinions and at times engaged in personal attacks against fellow journalists. She had public disputes with other reporters, including one with the editor of the New York Evening Journal, Arthur Brisbane. These conflicts sometimes overshadowed the substance of her work and drew attention to her confrontational approach.

Lack of Objectivity in Reporting: Some critics argued that Nellie Bly’s advocacy for social causes, such as women’s rights and improved conditions in mental institutions, compromised her objectivity as a journalist. While her passion for social reform resonated with many, others believed it blurred the lines between reporting and activism.

Controversial Book Titles: The titles of some of Nellie Bly’s books were considered provocative for their time. For instance, “Ten Days in a Mad-House” and “Nellie Bly’s Book: Around the World in Seventy-Two Days” suggested a flair for sensationalism that some contemporaries found objectionable.

Final Days and Legacy

Nellie Bly’s life was cut short at the age of 57 when she died of pneumonia on January 27, 1922. Despite her relatively short life, Bly’s impact on journalism and the women’s rights movement endured. Her legacy lived on through the countless journalists she inspired and the social reforms she advocated for throughout her career.

In recognition of her pioneering contributions, Nellie Bly was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998. Her life story continues to be a source of inspiration for those who aspire to challenge the status quo and make a positive impact on society.

Final Words:

Nellie Bly’s life and career were characterized by a relentless pursuit of truth, a fearless commitment to justice, and an unyielding belief in the power of journalism to effect positive change. From her early days challenging gender stereotypes to her groundbreaking work in undercover reporting and her record-breaking journey around the world, Bly’s legacy remains a testament to the indomitable spirit of one woman who dared to defy the norms of her time.

As we reflect on Nellie Bly’s contributions, it is essential to recognize the enduring impact she has had on the field of journalism and the broader struggle for equality. Her courage, resilience, and unwavering dedication to the pursuit of truth continue to inspire journalists and advocates for social justice around the world. Nellie Bly’s life serves as a reminder that even in the face of adversity, one individual can make a lasting impact and change the course of history. Please provide your comments below, it will help us in improving this article. Thanks for reading!

Some excerpts from the Articles written by Nellie Bly

On the Decision to Go Undercover: “I always had a desire to know asylum life more thoroughly – a desire to be convinced that the most helpless of God’s creatures, the insane, were cared for kindly and properly.”

On Gaining Admission to the Asylum: “On the reporter’s arrival in the ward, the girls had their heads together. ‘What’s yer name?’ ‘Where do you come from?’ ‘What did you do?’ were the questions hurled at me. ‘Mary Smith,’ I answered, as I had no right to give my real name.”

On the Harsh Conditions in the Asylum: “What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment? Here is a class of women sent to be cured. I would like the expert physicians who are condemning me for my action, which has proven their ability, to take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane.”.

On the Plight of the Inmates: “I felt that to get into the asylum and see, and describe, the treatment of the insane from start to finish, would be a big thing. Now, when I undertook to expose the abuse inflicted upon the insane, I felt that it was a big task, but I was convinced that it was not an impossible one.”

On the Response to Her Exposé: “My heart is gladdened with the knowledge that at last I am understood. After the inquisitive had satisfied their curiosity to see if I was really crazy, as they said, or only ‘crazy like a fox,’ as the expression goes, they returned to the parlor, and I was left alone.”

On the Power of Journalism: “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
Personal Details
Date of Birth : 5th May 1864
Died : 27th January 1922
Place of Birth : Cochran’s Mills, Pennsylvania, USA
Father : Michael Cochran
Mother : Mary Jane Cochran
Spouse/Partner : Robert Seaman
Children: Norman
Professions : American journalist

Famous quotes attributed to Nellie Bly

“Energy rightly applied and directed will accomplish anything.”

“I said I could and I would. And I did.”

“I have never written a word that did not come from my heart. I never shall.”

“The newspaper is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges whole countrysides and devastates crops, so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy.”

“I said I would, and I did! I went around the world in seventy-two days and six hours, and I never took off my clothes to do it.”

“It is only after one is in trouble that one realizes how little sympathy and kindness there are in the world.”

“It is only after one is in trouble that one realizes how little sympathy and kindness there are in the world.”

“I was too impatient to work for others; I wanted to be my own boss. I knew if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying.”

“I have never written a word that did not come from my heart. I never shall.”

“If it be necessary that I should fall so that my country may flourish, so be it.”

Facts on Nellie Bly

Birth and Early Life: Nellie Bly was born on May 5, 1864, in Cochran’s Mills, Pennsylvania, USA.

Pseudonym Origin: She adopted the pen name “Nellie Bly” from a popular Stephen Foster song, “Nelly Bly.”

Career Beginnings: Nellie Bly’s journalism career began with a letter she wrote in response to a sexist column in the Pittsburgh Dispatch. Impressed by her writing, the editor offered her a position at the newspaper.

Undercover Reporting – “Ten Days in a Mad-House”: In 1887, Bly went undercover at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island to expose the mistreatment of patients. Her series, “Ten Days in a Mad-House,” led to significant reforms in the mental health system.

Around the World in 72 Days: In 1889, Bly embarked on a solo journey to circumnavigate the globe, inspired by Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days.” She completed the trip in just 72 days, setting a world record.

Journalistic Innovations: Nellie Bly was a pioneer in investigative journalism and introduced new techniques, such as going undercover and using first-person narrative in her reporting.

Marriage and Business: Bly married Robert Seaman, a wealthy industrialist, in 1895. After his death, she took over his business, the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co., showcasing her versatility beyond journalism.

Social Reformer: Throughout her career, Bly advocated for various social issues, including workers’ rights, women’s rights, and improvements in mental health care.

Authorship: In addition to her journalistic work, Bly authored several books, including “Ten Days in a Mad-House,” “Around the World in Seventy-Two Days,” and “The Mystery of Central Park.”

Death: Nellie Bly passed away on January 27, 1922, at the age of 57, due to pneumonia.

Nellie Bly’s family life

Early Years and Sibling Support: Nellie Bly was born as Elizabeth Jane Cochran on May 5, 1864, in Cochran’s Mills, Pennsylvania. She was the thirteenth child in a large family. Her father, Michael Cochran, died when she was just six years old, leaving the family in financial distress. Nellie’s mother, Mary Jane Cochran, worked hard to support the family. Despite financial challenges, Nellie’s mother emphasized the importance of education and encouraged her children to pursue learning. Nellie was close to her siblings, and their support played a role in her early interest in writing.

Marriage to Robert Seaman: In 1895, at the age of 31, Nellie Bly married Robert Seaman, a wealthy industrialist who was more than 40 years her senior. Seaman was the owner of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co., a company that produced steel containers. The marriage provided Bly with financial security and allowed her to step away from journalism for a period. She became involved in her husband’s business, showcasing her adaptability beyond the field of journalism.

Business and Widowhood: After Robert Seaman’s death in 1904, Nellie Bly took over the management of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co. Despite facing financial challenges, she demonstrated resilience and resourcefulness in handling her late husband’s business affairs.

Countries Visited by Nellie Bly

United States: The starting and ending point of her journey was New York City, where she departed on November 14, 1889.

England: Bly arrived in London, where she met with Jules Verne, the author who inspired her journey.

France: From England, she traveled to Calais and then continued through France.

Italy: Bly visited Italy, including the cities of Venice and Brindisi.

Egypt: She traveled to Port Said, Egypt, a significant port city on the northern end of the Suez Canal.

Sri Lanka (then Ceylon): Bly’s journey took her to Colombo, the capital of Ceylon.

Singapore: Bly visited Singapore, a bustling port city in Southeast Asia.

Hong Kong: She traveled to Hong Kong, a British colony at the time.

Japan: Bly visited Yokohama and Tokyo, experiencing Japanese culture and customs.

Academic References on Nellie Bly

“Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist” by Brooke Kroeger: Published in 1994, this biography by Brooke Kroeger offers a comprehensive examination of Nellie Bly’s life and career. It explores her pioneering work in investigative journalism and her role as a feminist icon.

“Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World” by Matthew Goodman: Matthew Goodman’s book, published in 2013, provides a detailed account of the famous race between Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland as they attempted to circumnavigate the globe. It explores the cultural and social context of the late 19th century.

“Nellie Bly: The World’s Greatest Newspaperwoman” by Ruth Ashby: Part of the “Great Lives in History” series, Ruth Ashby’s book (2005) focuses on Nellie Bly’s achievements as a newspaperwoman. It covers her groundbreaking investigative reporting and her influence on the field.

“Nellie Bly: A Name to Be Reckoned With” by Stephen Krensky: Part of the “Profiles in Courage” series, this book by Stephen Krensky (2000) is designed for young readers but provides a concise overview of Nellie Bly’s life and career. It can be a good starting point for understanding her achievements.

“Nellie Bly: A Critical Biography” by Carolyn Kitch: Carolyn Kitch’s critical biography, published in 1994, delves into the complexities of Nellie Bly’s career, examining her impact on journalism and her role in shaping public perceptions of women in the late 19th century.

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