WOW Gal Angel
Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman aka Pen Name Nellie Bly
WOW! Where does one begin to write a tribute to this AMAZING Woman

Nellie Bly was  known  for  her pioneering journalism, including  her  1887 exposé  on  the  conditions of the asylum patients at Blackwell's Island in New York City and her report of her 72-day trip around the world.

This  famous  investigative  journalist Nellie Bly  was born  Elizabeth Jane  Cochran (she  later  added  an "e"  to  the  end   of  her  name)  on  May  5,  1864,  in Cochran's  Mills,  Pennsylvania.  (The  town  founded  by her father,  Michael Cochran,  who provided  for his family by working as a judge and landowner.)  

Elizabeth (Nellie) suffered  a  tragic  loss  in  1870, at the age of six,  when her father  died  suddenly.  Amid their grief, Michael's death presented a grave financial detriment to his family,  as he left them  without  a will, and, thus, no legal claim to his estate.
Her future began to look brighter in the early 1880s, when, at the age of 18, she submitted a racy response to an editorial piece that had been published in the Pittsburgh Dispatch. In the piece, writer Erasmus Wilson (known to Dispatch readers as the "Quiet Observer," or Q.O.) claimed that women were best served by conducting domestic duties and called the working woman "a monstrosity." Elizabeth (Nellie) crafted a fiery rebuttal that grabbed the attention of the paper's managing editor, George Madden, who, in turn, offered her a position.

She began working as a reporter for the Pittsburgh Dispatch at a rate of $5 per week. Taking on the pen name by which she's best known, after a Stephen Foster song, she sought to highlight the negative consequences of sexist ideologies and the importance of women's rights issues. She also became renowned for her investigative and undercover reporting, including posing as a sweatshop worker to expose poor working conditions faced by women.

In 1887, she  moved  to  New  York  City  and  began  working  for  the  New York World.  One  of  Elizabeth's (Nellie's) earliest assignments was  to author  a piece  detailing  the experiences  endured by  patients  of the infamous mental institution on Blackwell's Island (now Roosevelt Island).  In an effort to accurately expose the conditions at the asylum, she pretended to be  a mental patient in order to be  committed to the facility,  where she lived  for 10 days. This  exposé  was a massive success.  The piece shed light on  a number of disturbing conditions  at  the  facility,  including  neglect  and physical abuse,  and,  along with spawning her book on the subject, ultimately spurred a large-scale investigation of the institution. A fearless lady for sure!

During  her early  journalism career,  she wrote  Six Months in Mexico (1888),  which describes  her time  as a foreign  correspondent  in Mexico  in 1885. In  it,  she  explores  the country's  people and customs,  and even stumbles upon marijuana. 

In 1889, the paper sent her on a trip around the world in a record-setting 72 days.  She first proposed the idea of challenging  Fogg’s record  to World publisher  Joseph Pulitzer  in 1888. Three days  after he  gave  her the green light she left.  Clad in a dark blue  broadcloth traveling  dress,  a long,  black-and-white plaid Ulster coat, and a wool ghillie cap, Elizabeth (Nellie) boarded  the steamship  Augusta Victoria  in Hoboken , New Jersey, bound for England.  She carried  with her only  a leather gripsack,  not much larger  than  a doctor’s bag,  into which she  crammed clothing items,  underwear,  slippers,  toiletries,  a flask and  a drinking cup, needles and thread, writing implements, and a jar of cold cream.

In 1895, she married millionaire industrialist Robert Seaman, who was 40 years her senior and legally became known  as Elizabeth Jane Cochrane Seaman.  Also around this time,  she retired  from journalism  and by all accounts, the couple enjoyed a happy marriage. 

Upon  her  husband’s death  in 1904, she  took the helm  of his  Iron Clad Manufacturing Co.   During her time there,  she began  manufacturing  the first practical  55-gallon steel oil drum,  which evolved  into the standard one used today.  While in charge  she put her  social reforms  into  action  and  Iron Clad  employees  enjoyed several perks unheard of at the time, including fitness gyms,  libraries and healthcare.  Ultimately, the costs of these benefits began to mount and drain her inheritance. 

Faced with  such dwindling finances, Elizabeth (Nellie) re-entered the newspaper industry and began working for the New York Evening Journal in 1920 and reported on numerous events,  including  the  growing women’s suffrage movement.

Just two years after reviving her writing career, on  January 27, 1922, Elizabeth (Nellie) died from pneumonia in New York City. She was 57 years old.

In 2015, director Timothy Hines  released 10 Days in a Madhouse, which depicts Bly's harrowing experience in the asylum.

In early 2019, Lifetime released  a  thriller called Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story  based  on  her experience  as  an  undercover  reporter  in  a  women's  mental ward.  Christina Ricci  starred  as  Nellie and  Transparent's  Judith Light played the role of  head nurse.

As I find out more about all these WOW Gal Angels I never heard of in any of my history classes I am both honoured and grateful to know about them now. 

Compiled & Contributed by Fan Carolyn Shannon


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