Famous Journalist Nellie Bly Exposed Atrocities through Her Work

Elizabeth Jane Cochrane was known by her pen name Nellie Bly. Bly was born in 1864 and died in 1922, and she was the most famous American reporter in the 19th century.

Historical and Public Figures Collection, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth Jane Cochrane was known by her pen name Nellie Bly. Bly was born in 1864 and died in 1922, and she was the most famous American reporter in the 19th century.

Valeria Garcia Alcala, Reporter

Nellie Bly was born on May 5th, 1864 and was the most famous American woman reporter of the 19th century.

According to Women’s History’s website, Bly was born in Cochran Mills, Pennsylvania, and was born with the name Elizabeth Jane Cochran (she later added an “e” to her last name becoming Cochrane). As a newspaper writer, she took the pen name Nellie Bly.

Bly’s family owned a profitable mill in Cochran, but at the age of six, she lost her father, according to the website of Women’s History. Her mother was no longer able to afford their land or home, so they were forced to move. Bly’s mother later remarried but divorced due to abuse. Bly also attended Indiana Teacher’s College at the time, but was unable to continue her education due to the financial crisis their family was in, instead helped her mother run a boarding house.

According to the Washington Post, in the year 1887, Bly went undercover in an insane asylum in New York City where she would encounter many horrible things. While in the assignment, Bly would write about everything she heard and saw for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. Bly stated in her articles that she practiced in the mirror and infiltrated as a Cuban woman to be able to get into the asylum, and through her experiences she described the rancid, spider-infested food, the abuse from the staff when the women acted out, the incredibly poor living conditions, and the lack of proper clothes. Bly exposed these details to the public through her articles and brought a great shock to them all.

“Nearly all night long I listened to a woman cry about the cold and beg for God to let her die,” Bly said in her New York World articles. “Another one yelled, ‘Murder!’ at frequent intervals and ‘Police!’ at others until my flesh felt creepy.”

Throughout the years, Bly did many things in her career, but, according to Biography’s website, she is primarily known for exposing the conditions of asylum patients at Blackwell’s Island in New York City and her report of her 72 days around the world. Bly wrote three books: “Six Months in Mexico” in 1888, “Ten Days in a Mad-House” in 1887, and “Around the World in Seventy-Two Days” in 1890.

Long after Bly passed away, she left such an impact that in early 2019, Lifetime released a thriller based on Bly’s experience as an undercover reporter in a women’s mental ward, and in 2015 director Timothy Hines released “10 Days in a Madhouse.”

In 1895, Bly married a millionaire named Robert Seamen and decided to retire from journalism, but her husband would later die in 1903, leaving Bly in charge of a massive manufacturing company according to womenshistory.org. Later, Bly invented many inventions related to oil manufacturing that are still used to this day. Bly decided later on to return to journalism, and covered the woman’s suffrage movement and World War I. She died of pneumonia on January 27, 1922 according to Women’s History’s website.

“I’ve always had the feeling that nothing is impossible if one applies a certain amount of energy in the right direction,” Bly said and was quoted on Good Reads website, adding “If you want to do it, you can do it.”