A daring undercover assignment by a young, unknown female reporter of an insane asylum.
Nellie Bly, Investigative Reporter
She was born Elizabeth Jane Cochran on May 5, 1864, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Early on, she had a nickname of "pinky" because of her continued wearing of everything pink. Later, growing up, she stopped using that silly name she said and wanted to appear more sophisticated. By the age of 23, Nellie left Philadelphia for New York City, desperate for a job in journalism. She was broke and asked her landlady for cab fare to ride to the New York Worlds office to Mr. Joseph Pulitzer.
Lying to the guard, she indicated she had an interview with Mr. Pilitzer. Luckily, he agreed to see Nellie. Nellie pitched the idea of sending her to Europe on a ship to return by boat to Ellis island to expose the abuses of steerage class patrons. Pulitzer admired her spunk but had a better idea. He suggested she go undercover for ten days to an insane asylum in New York to gather information. Nellie decided on her pen name for her journalistic career. She would now be called Nellie Bly.
Here is a young woman, an investigative journalist setting out to expose women's rights in various jobs of women such as garment factories, maids and cleaning women, abuses in insane asylums, and the black markets for newborns.
Nellie jumped at this assignment. Immediately, Nellie set out to rent a room under a false name where she could also practice the disguise of an "insane" woman. Her cover name would be Nellie Brown. She was in the boarding house, crying and screaming that she disturbed the other guests. Finally, the matron called the police. The police removed her and took her before a judge. Having decided her condition was due to drugs because her pupils were enlarged, he sent her to Bellevue Hospital.
While in Bellevue, Nellie met another patient, Miss Neville, who also appeared to be sane. Both women, after examination, were deemed "positively demented" and shipped by wagon and boat to Blackwell Island Insane Asylum. Blackwell was the first mental hospital in the city of New York, opening in 1840. In 1868 there were 1000 people crammed into the asylum that was designed to house only 640 patients. The majority of the patients were poor immigrants who spoke no English.
Inside Blackwell Insane Asylum
Nellie's used her cover name Nellie Brown and spoke Spanish, saying she was from Cuba. She did not attempt to assume the role of insane but spoke in her usual way. Soon she discovered the rancid food being served, felt the boredom, had the freezing baths, drafty rooms, and cramped quarters. Nellie watched a French woman who told her she was only sent here because no one understood her. The nurses choked her to stop her from crying. Another middle-aged woman insisted she was eighteen. The nurses teased and kicked her until she became hysterical when the nurses dragged her into a closet. When she came out, she was red and bruised.
It would be because of her book and expose the New York City budget was increased $100,000 and the ultimate closure of Blackwell.
The "Rope Gang" was when 52 of the women patients were all strung together with leather belts, crying, sobbing, and screaming. By now, Nellie's ten days were up, and Joseph Pulitzer sought to gain her release. She set out to publish her book, Ten Days in the Mad-House.
Nellie continued writing articles on women's rights making herself a household name. Now, felt she needed a new image of herself and hearing of Jules Verne and his Around The World in Eight Days, she decided to do a similar trip by train and steamers. Her travels took her through England, France, Suez Canal, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan.
In 1893, Nellie met and married millionaire Robert Seaman. Nellie was 31 and Robert was 73. Robert owned and operated the Iron Clad Mfg. Co. but his health was declining so Nellie left journalism to care for him. Robert died in 1904 and Nellie took charge of the company.
The company made steel barrels and milk cans. Nellie herself was given two U.S. Patents, #697,553 and #703,711. Both were under her married name of Sherman. It was unfortunate that employees were embezzling monies from the company eventually forcing them into bankruptcy.
Nellie died January 27, 1922 of pneumonia at St. Mark's Hospital, NY. she is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY.
In 2002, a US postage Stamp was made in her honor. The New York Press Club gives an annual "Nellie Bly Cub Reporter" award to the best journalist with three years or less of professional experience,
Her nooks include; Ten Days in a Mad-House, Six Months in Mexico, the Mystery of Central Park, and Around the World in Seventy-Two Days. A board game of Around The World was also made in her name.
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on September 30, 2020:
I left my comment.
Rosina S Khan on September 30, 2020:
A new article titled, "A Miracle within a Dilemma: A Short Story" has been published.
Please read it and leave your valuable feedback in the comments section. Here is the link:
Rosina S Khan on September 24, 2020:
Fran, Part-Final for my story series, "Keily, the Bookworm" has been published. Please read it and leave your valuable feedback in the comments section. Here is the link:
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on September 20, 2020:
Thanks for reading and your generous comments.
Rosina S Khan on September 19, 2020:
An interesting account of Nellie Bly who was determined to make it a difference that she lived at all. Her books and a US postage Stamp made in her honor are proofs that she lived up to that expectation. Great article, Fran.