A journalist, essayist, feminist, and social advocate, Elizabeth Jane Cochran was born on May 5, 1864, in Cochran’s Mills, Pennsylvania. Her writing career began in 1885 with an angry letter to the Pittsburgh Dispatch in response to an article, “What are Women Good for?” The editor sought out the letter’s writer and commissioned Cochran to write articles on the lives of women. Cochran agreed, adopting the pen name “Nellie Bly,” the title character in a song by Stephen Foster. Bly’s journalism was marked by her undercover investigations that sought reform on social issues such as child labor, wages, and working conditions. In 1887, Bly feigned insanity to investigate reports of violence and negligence at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. She brought to light the poor conditions of the asylum and later published her report in book form as Ten Days in a Madhouse, earning her the nicknames “The Pretty Crazy Girl” and “The World’s Best Reporter.” In another well-known work, Around the World in Seventy-Two Days, Bly documented her bold and record-breaking 24,899-mile trip around the globe. Bly retired from journalism in 1894 and married wealthy manufacturer Robert Seaman. Although she developed into a leading woman industrialist, she later fell into bankruptcy and was forced to return to reporting. She covered topics such as World War I, women’s suffrage, and the improvement of orphanages. In 1922, after a life of social activism, adventure, and writing, Elizabeth Cochran Seaman died of pneumonia. (Rebecca Boudwin)
There was one way of getting at the truth, and I determined to try it.
Patrick Madden's New Book
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Quotidiana is an online anthology of "classical" essays, from antiquity to the early twentieth century. All essays and images are in the public domain. Commentaries are copyrighted, but may be used with proper attribution. Special thanks to the BYU College of Humanities and English Department for funding, and to Joey Franklin and Lara Burton, for tireless research assisting.