Historical Figures- Nellie Bly
One of my favorite historical figures is the reporter, Nellie Bly. As a teen, Nellie inspired me to go to college to study journalism (although I also studied other subjects). While I’m glad there has been a resurgence in investigative reporting, I think it’s a little unexciting we don’t have adventures like these anymore.
As a journalist, one of the reasons I find her to be so awesome is that even though a lot of the stories she wrote placed her in scary situations, she had times of doubt but was strong enough to pull through. Her reporting helped make the lives of millions of people better and I think that’s what journalists should all aspire to.
I believe that journalism is such an important line of work.
And while there is a lot of bias and people who dismiss mainstream news, I think its important to promote news and journalists who work to help improve situations.
Journalism doesn’t just have to be about reporting the events, it’s about so much more.
If we take the time to read news from different sources and try to find news that’s reported fairly, I think society would be a lot less polarizing.
Nellie though did write in the age of yellow and sensational journalism. If you thought our journalism was bad, take a look at past reporting to see how biased news could get and the trouble it caused.
Back in the day, you didn’t have the ability to read from newspapers all over the world, so what you got is what you got.
So I think especially when it’s so easy, instead of reading everything that backs up your worldview, it’s important to read from other viewpoints. That’s what good journalists are trained to do and they’re supposed to not be biased.
The following short biography was originally posted on my first blog.
Nellie Bly I think is an inspiring figure. She is one of America's most famous reporters from the 1800s who is most famous for getting committed to an insane asylum in order to report what it was like there (10 Days in a Madhouse) and traveling around the world in seventy-five days (Nellie's Bly's Book: Around the World in Seventy-five Days). She paved the way for women everywhere and was a champion for the working citizen.
Nellie Bly's real name is Elizabeth Jane Cochrane Seaman. As the story goes, a writer for the Pittsburgh Dispatch wrote a column saying that women belonged at home and were not fit to work.
In response to this letter, our young to-be-reporter wrote a letter to the editor signed "Lonely Orphan Girl". Impressed with the letter, the editor put out an ad asking for the writer of the letter to reveal him or herself.
When Elizabeth went in, the editor offered her a job. Nellie then went on to write two reports, one about working women and another about divorce. But because it was considered improper for a woman to reveal her true identity, Elizabeth picked the pen name, Nellie Bly, after a famous popular song.
Nellie was born on May 5, 1864, in Cochran Mills, Pennsylvania. Interestingly enough, the town was actually named after her father, Micheal Cochran. When Nellie was six, her father died and her family became virtually penniless.
Hoping to give her children a better life, Nellie's mother remarried but the marriage ended because the man she had married was abusive. In order to help her family, Nellie went to a school to become a teacher.
At this time, teaching and nursing were two of the few careers a women could have. While Nellie was not the best teacher, she was a good writer. When Nellie was sixteen, her family moved to Pittsburgh.
As a reporter for Pittsburgh, Nellie first reported on the lives of working people and the conditions in which they lived and worked. Known for bringer readers a first hand look at things, Nellie caused several reforms in businesses and how their employees were treated.
But when the businesses became mad, Nellie's editor had her report on fashion, the arts, and society. Nellie writes herself that she disliked writing about these subjects, so she came up with a new idea. Disliking these topics, Nellie traveled to Mexico where she reported on the conditions there, sending letters back to the Dispatch to publish (Six Months on Mexico).
Fun note: If you scroll down to the link of Six Months in Mexico, Nellie sent back some dishes to cook apparently.
After angering the president of Mexico, Nellie went back to Pittsburgh where she was once again put on covering fashion. Upset with this, she quit the Dispatch and traveled to New York where she got another reporting job here.
Her work did invite change as this PBS article notes:
Two years later, she had become the World's best stunt reporter. She was known for getting herself arrested so she could spend the night in a women's prison and among other, uncovering corruption in the state government.
In later years she reported on the National Woman Suffrage Convention in Washington, D.C., interviewed many famous politicians of her day, and reported on WWI.
She also married a seventy year old at the age of thirty one. When her husband, Robert Seaman, died she took over the company but after it when bankrupt, she went back to reporting.
After the Great War (WWI) she went back to her beloved New York where she told the stories of unwed mothers and their children. Through her efforts, thousands of children ended up in happy homes. She died on January 27, 1922.
Images from Wikimedia Commons