Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman (born Elizabeth Jane Cochran; May 5, 1864 – January 27, 1922), better known by her pen name Nellie Bly, was an American journalist, industrialist, inventor, and charity worker who was widely known for her record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days, in emulation of Jules Verne's fictional character Phileas Fogg, and an exposé in which she worked undercover to report on a mental institution from within. She was a pioneer in her field and launched a new kind of investigative journalism.
Elizabeth Cochran, "Nellie Bly," age about 26
Elizabeth Jane Cochran
May 5, 1864
|Died||January 27, 1922 (aged 57)|
New York City, U.S.
|Occupation||Journalist, writer, inventor|
(m. 1895; died 1904)
|Awards||National Women's Hall of Fame (1998)|
After her marriage, Bly used the name "Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman."
Elizabeth Jane Cochran was born May 5, 1864, in "Cochran's Mills", now part of the Pittsburgh suburb of Burrell Township, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania. Her father, Michael Cochran, born about 1810, started out as a laborer and mill worker before buying the local mill and most of the land surrounding his family farmhouse. He later became a merchant, postmaster, and associate justice at Cochran's Mills (which was named after him) in Pennsylvania. Michael married twice. He had 10 children with his first wife, Catherine Murphy, and 5 more children, including Elizabeth, with his second wife, Mary Jane Kennedy. Michael Cochran's father had immigrated from County Londonderry, Ireland, in the 1790s. He died in 1870 or 1871.
As a young girl, Elizabeth often was called "Pinky" because she so frequently wore that color. As she became a teenager, she wanted to portray herself as more sophisticated, and so dropped the nickname and changed her surname to "Cochrane". In 1879, she enrolled at Indiana Normal School (now Indiana University of Pennsylvania) for one term, but was forced to drop out due to lack of funds. In 1880, Cochrane's mother moved her family to Pittsburgh. A newspaper column entitled "What Girls Are Good For" in the Pittsburgh Dispatch that reported that girls were principally for birthing children and keeping house prompted Elizabeth to write a response under the pseudonym "Lonely Orphan Girl". The editor, George Madden, was impressed with her passion and ran an advertisement asking the author to identify herself. When Cochrane introduced herself to the editor, he offered her the opportunity to write a piece for the newspaper, again under the pseudonym "Lonely Orphan Girl". Her first article for the Dispatch, entitled "The Girl Puzzle", was about how divorce affected women. In it, she argued for reform of divorce laws. Madden was impressed again and offered her a full-time job. It was customary for women who were newspaper writers at that time to use pen names. The editor chose "Nellie Bly", after the African-American title character in the popular song "Nelly Bly" by Stephen Foster. Cochrane originally intended that her pseudonym be "Nelly Bly", but her editor wrote "Nellie" by mistake, and the error stuck.
As a writer, Nellie Bly focused her early work for the Pittsburgh Dispatch on the lives of working women, writing a series of investigative articles on women factory workers. However, the newspaper soon received complaints from factory owners about her writing, and she was reassigned to women's pages to cover fashion, society, and gardening, the usual role for women journalists, and she became dissatisfied. Still only 21, she was determined "to do something no girl has done before." She then traveled to Mexico to serve as a foreign correspondent, spending nearly half a year reporting on the lives and customs of the Mexican people; her dispatches later were published in book form as Six Months in Mexico. In one report, she protested the imprisonment of a local journalist for criticizing the Mexican government, then a dictatorship under Porfirio Díaz. When Mexican authorities learned of Bly's report, they threatened her with arrest, prompting her to flee the country. Safely home, she accused Díaz of being a tyrannical czar suppressing the Mexican people and controlling the press.
Burdened again with theater and arts reporting, Bly left the Pittsburgh Dispatch in 1887 for New York City. Penniless after four months, she talked her way into the offices of Joseph Pulitzer's newspaper the New York World and took an undercover assignment for which she agreed to feign insanity to investigate reports of brutality and neglect at the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island.
It was not an easy task for Bly to be admitted to the Asylum: She first decided to check herself into a boarding house called Temporary Homes for Females. She stayed up all night to give herself the wide-eyed look of a disturbed woman and began making accusations that the other boarders were insane. Bly told the assistant matron "There are so many crazy people about, and one can never tell what they will do."  She refused to go to bed and eventually scared so many of the other boarders that the police were called to take her to the nearby courthouse. Once examined by a police officer, a judge, and a doctor, Bly was taken to Blackwell's Island.
Committed to the asylum, Bly experienced the deplorable conditions firsthand. After ten days, the asylum released Bly at The World's behest. Her report, later published in book form as Ten Days in a Mad-House, caused a sensation, prompted the asylum to implement reforms, and brought her lasting fame.
Biographer Brooke Kroeger argues:
- Her two-part series in October 1887 was a sensation, effectively launching the decade of “stunt” or “detective” reporting, a clear precursor to investigative journalism and one of Joseph Pulitzer’s innovations that helped give “New Journalism” of the 1880s and 1890s its moniker. The employment of “stunt girls” has often been dismissed as a circulation-boosting gimmick of the sensationalist press. However, the genre also provided women with their first collective opportunity to demonstrate that, as a class, they had the skills necessary for the highest level of general reporting. The stunt girls, with Bly as their prototype, were the first women to enter the journalistic mainstream in the twentieth century.
Around the world and general impactEdit
In 1888, Bly suggested to her editor at the New York World that she take a trip around the world, attempting to turn the fictional Around the World in Eighty Days (1873) into fact for the first time. A year later, at 9:40 a.m. on November 14, 1889, and with two days' notice, she boarded the Augusta Victoria, a steamer of the Hamburg America Line, and began her 40,070 kilometer journey.
She took with her the dress she was wearing, a sturdy overcoat, several changes of underwear, and a small travel bag carrying her toiletry essentials. She carried most of her money (£200 in English bank notes and gold, as well as some American currency) in a bag tied around her neck.
The New York newspaper Cosmopolitan sponsored its own reporter, Elizabeth Bisland, to beat the time of both Phileas Fogg and Bly. Bisland would travel the opposite way around the world, starting on the same day as Bly took off. Bly, however, did not learn of Bisland's journey until reaching Hong Kong. She dismissed the cheap competition. "I would not race," she said. "If someone else wants to do the trip in less time, that is their concern."
To sustain interest in the story, the World organized a "Nellie Bly Guessing Match" in which readers were asked to estimate Bly's arrival time to the second, with the Grand Prize consisting at first of a free trip to Europe and, later on, spending money for the trip.
During her travels around the world, Bly went through England, France (where she met Jules Verne in Amiens), Brindisi, the Suez Canal, Colombo (Ceylon), the Straits Settlements of Penang and Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan. The development of efficient submarine cable networks and the electric telegraph allowed Bly to send short progress reports, although longer dispatches had to travel by regular post and thus were often delayed by several weeks.
Bly traveled using steamships and the existing railroad systems, which caused occasional setbacks, particularly on the Asian leg of her race. During these stops, she visited a leper colony in China and, in Singapore, she bought a monkey.
As a result of rough weather on her Pacific crossing, she arrived in San Francisco on the White Star Line ship RMS Oceanic on January 21, two days behind schedule. However, after World owner Pulitzer chartered a private train to bring her home, she arrived back in New Jersey on January 25, 1890, at 3:51 pm.
Just over seventy-two days after her departure from Hoboken, Bly was back in New York. She had circumnavigated the globe, traveling alone for almost the entire journey. Bisland was, at the time, still crossing the Atlantic, only to arrive in New York four and a half days later. She also had missed a connection and had to board a slow, old ship (the Bothnia) in the place of a fast ship (Etruria). Bly's journey was a world record, although it was bettered a few months later by George Francis Train, whose first circumnavigation in 1870 possibly had been the inspiration for Verne's novel. Train completed the journey in 67 days, and on his third trip in 1892 in 60 days. By 1913, Andre Jaeger-Schmidt, Henry Frederick, and John Henry Mears had improved on the record, the latter completing the journey in fewer than 36 days.
In 1895, Bly married millionaire manufacturer Robert Seaman. Bly was 31 and Seaman was 73 when they married. Due to her husband's failing health, she left journalism and succeeded her husband as head of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co., which made steel containers such as milk cans and boilers. In 1904, Seaman died. According to biographer Brooke Kroeger:
She ran her company as a model of social welfare, replete with health benefits and recreational facilities. But Bly was hopeless at understanding the financial aspects of her business and ultimately lost everything. Unscrupulous employees bilked the firm of hundreds of thousands of dollars, troubles compounded by a protracted and costly bankruptcy litigation.
In 1904, Iron Clad began manufacturing the steel barrel that was the model for the 55-gallon oil drum still in widespread use in the United States. There have been claims that Bly invented the barrel. The inventor was registered as Henry Wehrhahn. (U.S. Patents 808,327 and 808,413).
Bly was, however, an inventor in her own right, receiving U.S. Patent 697,553 for a novel milk can and U.S. Patent 703,711 for a stacking garbage can, both under her married name of Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman. For a time she was one of the leading women industrialists in the United States, but her negligence and embezzlement by a factory manager resulted in the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co. going bankrupt.
Back in reporting, she wrote stories on Europe's Eastern Front during World War I. Bly was the first woman and one of the first foreigners to visit the war zone between Serbia and Austria. She was arrested when she was mistaken for a British spy.
Bly covered the Woman Suffrage Procession of 1913. Under the headline "Suffragists Are Men's Superiors", her parade story predicted that it would be 1920 before women in the United States would be given the right to vote.
During the 1990s, playwright Lynn Schrichte wrote and toured Did You Lie, Nellie Bly?, a one-woman show about Bly.
Film and televisionEdit
Bly has been portrayed in the films The Adventures of Nellie Bly (1981), 10 Days in a Madhouse (2015), and Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story (2019). In 2019, the Center for Investigative Reporting released Nellie Bly Makes the News, a short animated biographical film. A fictionalized version of Bly as a mouse named Nellie Brie appears as a central character in the animated children's film An American Tail: The Mystery of the Night Monster.
Anne Helm appeared as Nellie Bly in the November 21, 1960, Tales of Wells Fargo TV episode "The Killing of Johnny Lash". Julia Duffy appeared as Bly in the July 10, 1983 Voyagers! episode "Jack's Back". The character of Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) in American Horror Story: Asylum is inspired by Bly's experience in the asylum. Bly was also a subject of Season 2 Episode 5 of The West Wing in which First Lady Abbey Bartlet dedicates a memorial in Pennsylvania in honor of Nellie Bly and convinces the President to mention her and other female historic figures on his weekly radio address.
Bly has been the subject of two episodes of the Comedy Central series Drunk History. The second-season episode "New York City" featured her undercover exploits in the Blackwell's Island asylum, while the third-season episode "Journalism" retold the story of her race around the world against Elizabeth Bisland.
On May 5, 2015, the Google search engine produced an interactive "Google Doodle" for Bly; for the "Google Doodle" Karen O wrote, composed, and recorded an original song about Bly, and Katy Wu created an animation set to Karen O's music.
A fictionalized account of Bly's around the world trip was used in the 2010 comic book Julie Walker is The Phantom published by Moonstone Books (Story: Elizabeth Massie, art: Paul Daly, colors: Stephen Downer).
Bly is one of 100 women featured in the first version of the book Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls written by Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo.
Eponyms and namesakesEdit
The board game Round the World with Nellie Bly created in 1890 is named in recognition of her trip.
The Nellie Bly Amusement Park in Brooklyn, New York City, was named after her, taking as its theme Around the World in Eighty Days. The park reopened in 2007 under new management, renamed "Adventurers Amusement Park".
A fireboat named Nellie Bly operated in Toronto, Canada in the first decade of the 20th Century. From early in the twentieth century until 1961, the Pennsylvania Railroad operated an express train between New York and Atlantic City named Nellie Bly. In its early years it was a parlor-car only train. The train's route bypassed Philadelphia for a shorter trip. It was involved in a crash in 1901, killing 17 people.
Within her lifetime, Nellie Bly published three non-fiction books (essentially compilations of her newspaper reportage) and one novel.
- Bly, Nellie (1887). Ten Days in a Mad-House. New York: Ian L. Munro.
- Bly, Nellie (1888). Six Months in Mexico. New York: American Publishers Corporation.
- Bly, Nellie (1889). The Mystery of Central Park. New York.
- Bly, Nellie (1890). Nellie Bly's Book: Around the world in seventy-two days. New York: The Pictorial Weeklies Company.
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- Kroeger 1994, p. 25.
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- "Nellie on the Fly". The Attic. Archived from the original on April 23, 2019. Retrieved February 1, 2019.
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- DeMain, Bill. "Ten Days in a Madhouse: The Woman Who Got Herself Committed". mental floss. Archived from the original on May 14, 2019. Retrieved May 10, 2010.
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- Ruddick 1999, p. 5.
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- "Society Topics of the Week" Archived December 17, 2019, at the Wayback Machine. The New York Times, November 24, 1889. Retrieved January 30, 2011
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- Bear, David. "Around the World With Nellie Bly." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 26, 2006
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- "Phineas Fogg Outdone". Daily Alta California. January 22, 1890. Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved July 20, 2013.
- George Francis Train, The Bostonian Who Really Was Phileas Fogg Archived February 10, 2017, at the Wayback Machine at the New England Historical Society
- "William Lightfoot Visscher, Journal profile, part one". Skagitriverjournal.com. Archived from the original on October 26, 2016. Retrieved July 20, 2013.
- The New York Times, "A Run Around the World", August 8, 1913
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- "Nellie Bly, journalist, Dies of Pneumonia". The New York Times. January 28, 1922. Archived from the original on November 15, 2011. Retrieved November 29, 2011.
- "The Remarkable Nellie Bly". American Oil & Gas Historical Society. Archived from the original on October 4, 2011. Retrieved July 20, 2013.
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- Garrison, Jayne. "Nellie Bly, Girl Reporter : Daredevil journalist". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on May 8, 2015. Retrieved May 5, 2015.
- The remarkable Nellie Bly, inventor of the metal oil drum, Petroleum Age, 12/2006, p. 5.
- Bly 1915.
- Harvey, Sheridan (2001). "Marching for the Vote: Remembering the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913". American Women. Library of Congress. Archived from the original on February 10, 2013. Retrieved March 3, 2013.
- Dunning, Jennifer (February 23, 1979). "Woodlawn, Bronx's Other Hall of Fame". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 10, 2018. Retrieved November 29, 2011.
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- "Four Accomplished Journalists Honored on U.S. Postage Stamps". about.com (Press release). USPS. September 14, 2002. Archived from the original on October 16, 2016.
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- Dietz 2010, p. 310.
- "Lynn Schrichte". Resourceful Women. Library of Congress. Archived from the original on January 25, 2018. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
- The Adventures of Nellie Bly at AllMovie
- "Fearless Feminist Reporter Nellie Bly Hits the Big Screen". Ms. Magazine. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
- Bentley, Rick. "Judith Light hopes 'The Nellie Bly Story' will prompt mental health discussions". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
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- "Nellie Bly". Popular Pittsburgh. February 11, 2015. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
- Eidell, Lynsey (October 7, 2015). "All the Real-Life Scary Stories Told on American Horror Story". Glamour. Archived from the original on June 19, 2018. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
- MacIntosh, Selena (July 2011). "Ladyghosts: The West Wing 2.05, 'And It's Surely to Their Credit'". Persephone. Archived from the original on February 5, 2012. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
- "Nellie Bly Goes Undercover at Blackwell's Island". cc.com. Comedy Central. July 8, 2014. Archived from the original on January 25, 2018. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
- "Journalism". cc.com. Comedy Central. October 20, 2015. Archived from the original on January 25, 2018. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
- "What Girls are Good For: Happy birthday Nellie Bly". May 4, 2015. Archived from the original on May 7, 2015. Retrieved May 5, 2015.
- Blixt, David. "What Girls Are Good For: A Novel of Nellie Bly". Retrieved November 25, 2020.
- "The New Colossus". diversionbooks.com/ebooks/new-colossus. Archived from the original on April 24, 2014. Retrieved April 29, 2014.
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- "024. Julie Walker: The Phantom (A)". Moonstonebooks.com. Archived from the original on July 29, 2013. Retrieved July 20, 2013.
- Chris Bateman (2013). "The nautical adventures of the Trillium ferry in Toronto". Blog TO. Archived from the original on August 28, 2018. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
A second fire boat, the Nellie Bly, presumably named after the American journalist famous for her round-the-world trip and exposé piece of US mental health practices, was also involved. 'Their combined efforts prevented the fire from spreading,' noted the Star.
- "Round the world with Nellie Bly--The Worlds globe circler". Library of Congress. Archived from the original on January 25, 2018. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
- ""Adventurer's Amusement Park" UltimaterollerCoaster.com". Archived from the original on July 28, 2015. Retrieved May 5, 2015.
- "Adventurer's Park Family Entertainment Center – Brooklyn, NY". adventurerspark.com. Archived from the original on May 3, 2015. Retrieved May 5, 2015.
- ""Terrible Wreck On Pennsylvania Road" The Gloversville Daily Leader February 22, 1901" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on February 5, 2020. Retrieved May 5, 2015.
- Bly, Nellie (January 12, 1915). "American Woman Imprisoned in Austria; Liberated When Identified by Dr. Friedman". Los Angeles Herald. p. 2. Retrieved May 13, 2020.
- Dietz, Dan (2010). Off Broadway Musicals, 1910-2007: Casts, Credits, Songs, Critical Reception and Performance Data of More Than 1,800 Shows. McFarland. ISBN 978-0786457311.
- Goodman, Matthew (2013). Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World. ISBN 9780345527264.
- Kroeger, Brooke (1994). Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist. Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0812925258.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Kroeger, Brooke (February 2000). "Bly, Nellie". American National Biography. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1601472.
- Lutes, Jean Marie (June 2002). "Into the Madhouse with Nellie Bly: Girl Stunt Reporting in Late Nineteenth-Century America". American Quarterly. Johns Hopkins University Press. 54 (2): 217–253. doi:10.1353/aq.2002.0017. S2CID 143667078 – via Project MUSE.
- Mahoney, Ellen (Summer 2017). "Nellie Bly: Pioneer journalist extraordinaire". Western Pennsylvania History: 32–45.
- "Nellie Bly Makes the News". Reveal. The Center for Investigative Reporting. 2017. Retrieved May 11, 2020.
- Parham, Stacey Gaines (2010). Nellie Bly, 'the best reporter in America': one woman's rhetorical legacy (PDF) (PhD thesis). The University of Alabama.
- Randall, David (2005). "Nellie Bly: The best undercover reporter in history". The Great Reporters. London: Pluto Press. pp. 93–113. ISBN 0745322972.
- Rittenhouse, Mignon (1956). The Amazing Nellie Bly. Dutton.
- Roggenkamp, Karen (2016). Sympathy, Madness, and Crime: How Four Nineteenth-century Journalists Made the Newspaper Women's Business. Kent State University Press. ISBN 978-1606352878.
- Ruddick, Nicholas (1999). "Nellie Bly, Jules Verne, and the World on the Threshold of the American Age". Canadian Review of American Studies. 29 (1): 1–12. doi:10.3138/CRAS-029-01-01. S2CID 159883003.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Vengadasalam, Puja (September 10, 2018). "Dislocating the Masculine: How Nellie Bly Feminised Her Reports". Social Change. 48 (3): 451–458. doi:10.1177/0049085718781597. S2CID 149576773.
- Information, photos and original Nellie Bly articles at Nellie Bly Online
- Library of Congress "Nellie Bly: A Resource Guide"
- Nellie Bly's collected journalism at The Archive of American Journalism
- Norwood, Arlisha. "Nellie Bly". National Women's History Museum. 2017.
- The Daring Nellie Bly: America's Star Reporter illustrated biography by Bonnie Christensen, reviewed by Maria Popova
- Works by Nellie Bly at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Nellie Bly at Internet Archive
- Works by Nellie Bly at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)