Nellie Bly

“I always had a desire to know asylum life more thoroughly — a desire to be convinced that the most helpless of god’s creatures, the insane, were cared for kindly and properly.”

Nellie Bly (born Elizabeth Jane Cochran)

(May 5, 1864 – January 27, 1922)

Nellie Bly Portrait

After writing to the local paper calling out sexism in an article, she was hired as a journalist for the Pittsburgh paper. She was very curious and wrote with the pen name, Nellie Bly. She moved to New York and was hired by New York World. At 22 years of age, she pitched the idea of going undercover and behaving as a mentally ill woman in order to experience and record the conditions at Blackwell’s Island Asylum in 1887. For ten days, she observed it was extremely unsanitary, overcrowded, and the nurses gave poor care or no care and were abusive. Many of the residents were not actually mentally ill and many were simply immigrants. Some were tied, beaten, and locked in cells.

She wrote a series of articles about her time there and also wrote the book, Ten Days in a Mad-House. And, as a result of her expert reporting, state funding was increased, many of the women were released, and the nurses fired. As the public understood the horrid conditions and learned more about the oppression of the mentally ill, it opened up their hearts to compassion and a desire to make things better.

The short list:

  • Pen name Nellie Bly, Investigative Reporter.
  • Most famous assignment, the expose´ of Blackwell’s Island Asylum in 1887.
  • Brought to light the inhumane conditions for the mentally ill.
  • Wrote the book, Ten Days in a Mad-House.
  • Her account changed journalism forever.
  • Dramatically changed the conditions at the asylums for the better.
  • She was also known for her travel pieces and “Around the World in 80 Days,” became a bit of a competition among journalists, a woman traveling alone and with only one bag. Unheard of!
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