Today’s Her’s Day Thursday lady is Elizabeth Jane Cochran. But, you may know her better under her pen name, Nellie Bly.
When Elizabeth was 16 years old and living in Pittsburgh, she read a column in the local newspaper titled “What Girls Are Good For”. It was incredibly misogynistic and riled Elizabeth’s feathers. She wrote a strongly-worded rebuttal to the editor. The editor was so impressed that he offered her a job. Back then, women who wrote for newspapers often used pseudonyms; she chose Nellie Bly.
Nellie focused her articles and journalistic power to highlight the plight of working women in factories. She was under constant pressure to write about “things women wanted to see” such as fashion, society, and gardening.
Unsatisfied with this, Nellie took matters into her own hands. She wanted to write about something that could make a difference. She left the paper in Pittsburgh and got a job at Joseph Pulitzer’s paper, The New York World.
Pulitzer offered her an undercover assignment: ten days at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell Island. Nellie agreed.
She practiced looking deranged and then checked into a boarding house. She told the workers that she would not take any food because she was afraid of them. After some theatrics from Nellie, the workers decided Nellie was crazy and called the police. She was examined by a doctor who determined she was “positively demented” and “a hopeless case”.
She was committed to the hospital soon after and saw the horrors the patients were experiencing. They were fed spoiled beef, doughy bread, dirty water, and gruel broth. Dangerous patients were tied together with ropes and there were feces everywhere. Rats crawled at their feet, they were bathed with frigid water, and the nurses were abusive.
When Nellie’s ten days undercover were up, she wrote an expose titled Ten Days in a Madhouse. Her article caused uproar; readers of The New York World were aghast at what the patients were enduring.
A full investigation was launched and improvements were made. An increase of $850,000 was added to the hospital’s budget, doctors were fired; new ones were hired, and new examinations were put in place to determine if a woman was truly mentally ill.
Nellie Bly: Journalism Boss.
Check out more of Nellie’s accomplishments here!