Nellie Bly - Feminist, Daredevil, Journalist

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Nellie Bly, who was born as Elizabeth Cochran, was a famous journalist, feminist, author, and industrialist. She's most famous for her record-breaking trip around the world and her undercover trip to an insane asylum where she feigned insanity to study the place from inside. When diagnosed by the asylums doctor, he said she was "'undoubtedly insane.". Though Bly was never interested in acting, she could have proven to excel in that field since she could fool anyone, even a professional, into thinking she was truly insane.

Nellie Bly was born May 5, 1864 to Mary Jane and Judge Michael Cochran. She later earned the nickname "Pink" because her mother would always dress her up in bright pink gowns. Shortly after her sixth birthday, her father died without a will, causing his house to go up for auction and forcing Mary Jane and her family into poverty. Wanting to make a better life for her children, Mary Jane married John Jackson Ford, who was drunk nearly all the time and extremely violent. After Mary Jane fled the house one day in fear of her husband beating her, Ford locked up the house, nailed the windows shut, and kept a small opening in a window above the front door so he could get in and out. When Bly was 14, Mary Jane filed for divorce. Bly and her siblings testified against Ford, telling the court that he had once thrown all the newly cleaned clothes on the ground and soiled them in the dirt for no good reason, and sent the dinner china flying across the room towards Mary Jane while he was drunk. In 1882, when Pink was 18, she sent an anonymous letter to the editor of the Pittsburg Dispatch newspaper in response to a sexist article written by Erasmus Wilson. The article stated that a woman's place was in the home, and she was to make her home a paradise and play the part of an angel. Bly's response was earnest and full of spirit, telling Wilson exactly what she thought of his offensive article. George Madden, the editor of the paper, sent out an add in the next paper asking to meet the girl, hoping to hire her onto the paper. Bly turned up the next day and became part of the staff. After several pieces, Bly was told to write about women's interest pieces. After convincing her editor to move her back to more general interest features, she wrote of the first woman to open and run an opera house. At age 21, Bly left the paper and traveled to Mexico for 6 months with her mother. She reported it as being the worst monarchy in existence. Less then a year later she was hired at The New York World, a highly esteemed paper. Her first assignment was to feign insanity and get herself committed to the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell Island. She checked into a temporary home for woman as Nellie Brown. After dinner and a few irrational conversations the other women decided she was crazy. Some were even afraid to go to sleep in fear that Bly would kill them. One of the women left and brought back two police to haul Bly away. She was taken to the Essex Marker courtroom for examination. She told the judge that she couldn't remember where she'd come from or who she was. Doctors described her as "'the most peculiar case that ever came into the hospital.". She was brought to asylum immediately. She wrote of vicious nurses who choked, beat, and harassed their patients, the horrible food, and the ice cold baths. Ten days later, Bly's attorney came to sign release forms. The article of her experience was printed two days later, making a permanent place for her name in history. Doctors, nurses, and administrators came up with excuses or denied their diagnosis. In 1888, at age 25, Bly was sent out on a race around the world to beat the 80-day trek of the fictional Phileas Fogg, the main character of "Around the World in Eighty Days". She traveled from New York City, to London, France, Italy, three cities in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Japan, San Francisco, and back to New York City in Seventy-two days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds. Fireworks, parades, a band, and masses of people greeted her. On April 5, 1895, Bly married a man Robert Livingston, who was 40 years her senior and a millionaire industrialist. Their marriage was said to be less then happy, and Bly's reasons for marrying him were questionable. He died 10 years later in 1914, leaving his business in her hands. Although her intentions to reform the business were good, her lack of banking skills led the company to bankruptcy. She fled to England to escape her financial problems, only to be caught up in the outbreak of World War 1. She seized the opportunity to report the war from behind the scenes, and remained in Europe until 1919 to take care of her dying mother. On January 27, 1922, Nellie Bly died. All New York newspapers acknowledged her passing with elaborate obituaries.

Nellie Bly was very much a feminist. When questioned, one reason she left for Mexico was because, she said she was, "too impatient to work along at the usual duties assigned to women on newspapers.". She devoted her entire life to reform, making women's temporary homes safer and more comfortable, volunteering in girl's orphanages, and being a spokesperson for strong, independent women of the working class. She was also a very enthusiastic and optimistic person. Her motto was, "Energy rightly applied and directed will accomplish anything.". If she hadn't been such a positive person, she probably wouldn't have accomplished so much.

Nellie Bly was born in 1864 and died in 1922. An era in which women had little opportunity to do anything but housework, and much less exceed. It was also a time in which much reform was needed. So much happened, like the invention of cars and electricity, women's suffrage movements and the ability to vote, the labor movement, and World War 1 to name a few. It was a good time for Bly to be living in because without people like her we might not have as many opportunities as we do now.

Nellie Bly is someone who deserves more praise then she ever received. She changed how the world saw things and how things ran. Nellie Bly was, as the New York World's Arthur Brisbane stated, "The best reporter in America.".





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This article has 9 comments. Post your own now!

NellyBly said...
May 10, 2010 at 5:30 pm
Oh my god, Nellie Bly is my hero this was just awesome. Nellie Bly is probably one of the most influential women in american history, and I want to be like her good job.
 
Excalibur said...
Mar. 6, 2009 at 3:55 am
Nice work! You have a good thesis statement with a logical sequence of events. Your descriptive details are well developed and make Nellie come alive for the reader. Your research is well done, as well. You do have a few minor edits to make. In the sentence reading "George Madden...sent out an add..." you need to change "add" to ad. Also, the sentence reading,"She checked into a temporary home for woman..." I think you meant to type women. Finally, there is a corection in the next to last para... (more »)
 
bee123 said...
Mar. 5, 2009 at 11:12 pm
A note of interest to one of the comments. In 1660 a German experimenter built the first electric generating machine, so electricity was available to some during the time mentioned in the essay.
 
NY Nanny said...
Mar. 5, 2009 at 11:09 pm
Wow. I was quite impressed. Hard to believe she's just a teen. Great job.
 
chrisdavistech said...
Mar. 5, 2009 at 1:55 am
You are becoming a really great writer - I am very proud of you! A couple things though, and I'm pretty sure I mentioned this on your rough draft - electricity wasn't invented, and in the second to last paragraph you would probably be better off using "women" instead of "we" referring to who has the opportunities... other than that keep up the great work!
 
UncleB said...
Mar. 4, 2009 at 2:46 pm
Very good, How old is this kid? It apears she enjoys writing, good start, keep it up.
 
shanzy said...
Mar. 4, 2009 at 3:32 am
Totally awesome story. Rock on!!
 
buddy5w said...
Mar. 3, 2009 at 11:04 pm
Very enlightening article about one of
America's most colorful characters. Well composed and written. Good research by the writer.
 
woodsman said...
Mar. 4, 2009 at 5:35 pm
Really well written. Nellie has gone to an almost mythical place where some people don't think she ever existed. It's good that you brought her back.
 
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