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Nellie Bly (1) [1864–1922]

This page covers the author of Ten Days in a Mad-House.

For other authors named Nellie Bly, see the disambiguation page.

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Nellie Bly, who would grow up to pioneer new kind of investigative journalism in the USA, was born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in the small town of Cochran's Mills, Pennsylvania. The town was named after her father Michael Cochran, a landowner, judge, and businessman. She was six years old when her father died and the family was thrown into financial straits. Her mother hastily remarried to a man who abused her; she later sought a divorce. Elizabeth attended the Indiana Normal School to train to become a teacher, one of the few professions open to women of that era. But she lacked the money to continue after one semester. She moved with her mother to Pittsburgh, where they ran a boarding house. In 1885, she wrote a scathing reply to an editorial in The Pittsburgh Dispatch entitled "What Girls Are Good For." The editor of the Dispatch was so impressed by her writing that he offered her a full-time job at the paper. She took the pen name Nellie Bly from a popular song by Stephen Foster. Although originally assigned to the "women's pages," Nellie Bly wrote about poor working girls and the need for reform of the state's laws on divorce. She convinced her editors to send her as a foreign correspondent to Mexico for a while. Her articles filed there would later be collected in the book Six Months in Mexico. When she returned home, the Dispatch again tried to confine her to the women's page. She quit, and moved to New York City, where she talked her way into the office of the managing editor of Joseph Pulitzer's newspaper The New York World. He asked Nellie to write a story about the mentally ill housed in a large asylum on Blackwell's Island. She convinced doctors there that she was insane, and spent 10 days undercover in the institution, emerging with stories of cruel treatment that were published, along with illustrations, in The New York World. Her reports stirred public reaction and brought much needed attention, money, and reforms to the asylum. In the ensuing years, Nellie Bly exposed corruption, poverty, injustice, shady lobbying, the abuse of women prisoners by police, and more. In 1894, she went to Chicago to cover the Pullman Railroad strike from the workers' perspective. She won interviews with celebrities such as John L. Sullivan, Susan B. Anthony, and Emma Goldman. One of the highlights of her career was a trip around the world in 1889-1890 in a stunt to beat the record of the fictional Phileas Fogg, hero of Jules Verne's novel Around the World in Eighty Days, and boost her paper's circulation. It became a contest when she was challenged by Elizabeth Bisland of Cosmopolitan magazine. Nellie returned to New York the winner, greeted by cheering crowds. She went on lecture tours and wrote Nellie Bly's Book: Around The World In Seventy-Two Days. During this time, her brother Charles died, and Nellie began taking care of his wife and children. In 1895, she married Robert Seaman, an industrialist 40 years her senior. When he died in 1904, she ran the business until it went bankrupt, and then returned to reporting. She served as a foreign correspondent on the Russian and Serbian fronts in World War I for The New York Evening Journal. She died of pneumonia in 1922 at the age of 57.

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