Sunday, April 24, 2011

Historical Fact Sunday- Nellie Bly

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.

Some information about this reporter:
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. 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). 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.

It was here in New York, working for the New York World, that Nellie became famous for her stunt in the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island. 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 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.

Do you have a favorite historical figure? Is he/she well-known? What for? Or what did they do to earn your respect?

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