Unfortunately Nellie Bly is not around to celebrate her birthday on May 5th 1864. but if she was she would be feted for her work as an investigative reporter for the New York World, owned by John Pulitzer. At the time she was making her mark, it was unusual for women to be journalists at all, and if they were they were normally confined to writing about fashion, society and gardening.
She started at the newspaper in 1887, and at just 23 and accepted an assignment to pretend to be an insane woman and go undercover at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. Sprung by her newspaper after 10 days she wrote a strong expose on the terrible conditions in the Asylum, the cruelty of the nurses and the incompetence of the doctors. It was a sensation and made her famous as well as helping to bring about needed changes in the looking after of women with psychiatric problems.
In 1888 she undertook to beat the record of the book ‘Around The World in 80 Days’ and set off with great hoopla from Hoboken, under the sponsorship of her newspaper obviously. She left with only the clothes she stood up in and a small carrying bag and then arrived back home to even more hoopla after 72 days. This feat further enhanced her fame.
She married wealthy Industrialist Robert Seaman in 1895 and after his death took over running the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co which produced the first 55 gallon drums. During her time doing this she also invented a new milk can and a stacking garbage bin.
When she was bankrupted by swindling employees, Nellie went back to being a reporter and reported on the first Woman Suffrage Parade in Washington D.C. in 1913. She also travelled to the Eastern Front in Europe and reported on the First World War.
The name Nellie Bly is a pseudonym, her real name was Elizabeth Jane Cochran. There is a long history of mostly very well off, but nonetheless very courageous NYC women who were active around the issue of changing working and living conditions for the better, especially for women and children and women’s suffrage. What makes Nellie standout is her origins were humble. Her father was a laborer and she did what she did and achieved renown by talent, daring and hard work alone. Go Nellie.