Monday’s Marvelous Moden Woman: Nellie Bly

Exposing the Horror of the Asylums

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I said I could, and I would; and I did.

Photo Credit: The New York City Mental Health Hospital on Blackwell’s Island, c. 1893

Bio

She was born in Cochran’s Mill in Pennsylvania, she was the 13th daughter of Michael Cochran, a mill owner postmaster, and associate justice for the county.

Growing up her favorite color was pink, and the preference earned her the nickname Pink.

At least until she became a teenager and wanted to appear more sophisticated, she dropped the nickname and started using her father’s surname.

Her first foray into the world of journalism came in response to a piece in the Pittsburg Dispatch titled “What Girls Are Good For.” It was about exactly what you think.

But her well-reasoned and witty response opened the door to more “columns” under her pseudonym “Lonely Orphan Girl.”

Little did she know at the time where the lonely orphan girl would go. First to an asylum and then around the world.

Stunt Girl Journalism

They were a new breed of journalist emerged: plucky, clever, and dedicated less to flaunting her “natal mind” than to exposing society’s ills.

Beginning in the 1880s and 1890s newspapers began employing women. Their investigations could last weeks or months, and, in some cases, put their lives at risk.

They worked in what we would now call “undercover” roles reporting on conditions, exposing frauds and scandals.

They worked in factories, mills, institutions, hospitals, and tenements; many of these institutions were the framework that the 20th century America was built on.

These “stunt girls’ played key roles in getting the industries that built the American economy regulated. They watched as their male colleagues were considered “investigative journalists.”

The work these women were doing was the dangerous work we would eventually recognize as investigative journalism.

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Alexandra Henning The Hysterical Historian

I write about politics, science, among other topics as the mood strikes through a historical lense.