According to one website I looked at, Nellie Bly was "the best reporter in America." Whether this is true or not, one thing can't be denied...she was a pioneer in the world of female reporting. So who was Nellie Bly and why is she famous? It's not just because she was a female reporter in the late 19th century, but also because she talked her editor, Joseph Pulitzer, into letting her try to beat the record of the fictitious Phileas Fogg, of Around The World in 80 Days fame (and have Joseph to pay for it). Not only did he let her, but she did beat the record set by Jules Verne's character.
According to Mike Flanngan in It's About Time: How Long History Took, Nellie's trip took 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds. However, according to Bly, she actually only "spent 56 days, 12 hours and 41 minutes in actual travel." She spent 15 days, 17 hours, 30 minutes in delays.
But, who was Nellie Bly? First, her real name was Elizabeth Jane Cochran, and she was the daughter of Judge Michael and Mary Jane Cochran from Cochran's Mills, Pennsylvania, born in 1864. Though her family was well off and comfortable, all that changed when her father died when she was five. The family was forced to sell off their house because her father died without a will. The man her mother remarried was abusive. Some feel that it's these incidents in her life that made Elizabeth a fighter for woman's rights.
Her editor chose her pen name from the song Nelly Bly written by Stephen Foster some 30 odd years before. Read the lyrics here: http://home.att.net/~gapehenry/Song.html. I can't help but wonder if he was being a bit sexist by choosing the name from such a song, because it seems, Nelly's place was in the home and kitchen.
Elizabeth's first job was with the Pittsburgh Dispatch after she wrote a letter to the editor blasting a sexist piece written by one of their columnists. The editor liked it so much, he asked her to write freelance. After four columns, she was hired at $5 a week. She shied away from the normal women's stories of fashion and housekeeping. Instead, she went after the hard hitting social issues of working women, reform of divorce laws and factory conditions. She was sent to Mexico and did six months worth of columns from there. Returning to America, she headed for New York and its newspapers.
She was hired on with the New York World, where her first assignment was to be committed to the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island. She continued such undercover work until 1888, when the idea of sending a man around the world to duplicate Fogg's journey was discussed by the newspaper. This angered Elizabeth to the point that she threatened to go to another newspaper and beat the World's man's record when she went around the world. So, the World sent her.
The story increased sales of the papers, but she received no special recognition or bonus. Shortly thereafter, she resigned from the paper, only to return a few years later and focus on women's rights.
She resigned again when she married in 1895. After her husband's death, she went to England, getting caught there when WWI broke out. She once again took up reporting, this time behind the scenes of the war. After she returned to America, she continued her reporting career until her death in 1922.
Here are two good websites where I gleaned information on Nellie Bly:
Which woman in history do you most admire and why?
P.S. I discovered after I posted this that Nellie Bly started her 'trip around the world' today, November 14, 1889. I'm sure I read that, I just didn't connect that today was the 14th....lol. So, quite by accident, I blogged about her on the anniversary of the start of her famous voyage.