Bly, Nellie: Journalism Pioneer

Nellie Bly worked as an investigative reporter at a time when few women even had careers. She became famous for her daring exploits and exposes.

Nellie Bly was born Elizabeth Cochrane. Her incredible reporting career began when she wrote a furious letter to a newspaper, complaining about an editorial. The editorial had claimed that women were good for little except housework. The articulate letter impressed the editor of the paper so much that he offered her a job.

Rules for women were different then, and working as a reporter was not considered a respectable job, so Elizabeth didn't want to print her real name in the newspaper. She picked a name from a popular song of the day, and she went to work.

Nellie loved reporting from the very first, and she was very proficient at it. Her articles raised the readership of the paper where she worked tremendously, and she began to get more and more assignments.

Nellie began to cultivate an excellent reputation as a reporter. Very soon she came to the notice of other newspaper editors. Joseph Pullitzer in New York made her an offer that she couldn't refuse. She moved to New York and went to work as an investigative reporter for Mr. Pullitzer's paper.

She became world famous in 1890, when she boasted to other reporters that she could beat the fictional record set by Phileas Fogg, a character in Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days. They printed her claims in the newspaper. But Nellie wasn't just full of hot air; she did just what she said she could. She even went it one better, and made it in 72 days.

Joseph Pulitzer was so thrilled with all the publicity that her exploits were generating for his newspaper that he sent a special train to meet her when she returned. Fireworks, brass bands, and a parade on Broadway greeted her when she finished up in San Francisco.

Nellie Bly became a pioneer in journalism and investigative reporting, and she is the model for many investigative journalists today. She was one of the earliest reporters to go undercover behind the scenes to expose vice, and the newspaper articles she wrote helped to remedy injustices.

She put herself in physical danger many times, and more than once there were threats on her life. But she didn't let that stop her. She exposed vice in City Hall, reported on horrible working conditions in factories, and told a fascinated readership about the problems in society that were being ignored.

For ten days, Nellie even had herself committed to a mental institution, so that she could study firsthand how the mentally ill were treated. As a result of her report, people were shocked, and steps were taken to make changes in the care of the mentally ill. The New York Journal that year called Nellie the finest reporter in America.

Nellie married Robert Seaman in 1895, and she retired from public life. She had ten years with her husband, and then was forced to embark on a different career after her husband's death. She took over his failing industries, and she improved them by introducing the innovation of the steel barrel to the distilling process in America.

Early on, Nellie recognized the value of treating her workers well, and she told all who would listen that she ran her plants as social experiments. She was a pioneer for good will between employers and employees: She advocated mental and physical fitness, and in general she helped her employees to delight in and improve their lives. She initiated physical fitness for her employees, and she provided them with gyms. She also provided bowling alleys and health care. Nellie provided staffed libraries, and her literacy programs taught employees how to read and write.

Her competition said that she would be out of business in a month, and Nellie quickly proved that they were wrong. The businesses were a resounding success. For almost 10 years, Nellie managed two companies that were worth millions of dollars.

When Nellie retired as a businesswoman, she went on a vacation to Europe. When World War I broke out, it trapped her there. With no way to get home, she decided that she might as well do something useful as long as she was stuck. She came out of retirement and covered the war as a reporter from the eastern front.

Nellie Bly lived a full, rich, entertaining life. She held a variety of jobs: She worked as a researcher, reporter, and an industrialist. She was fearless while reporting, and she hastened reform with her newspaper stories. She let neither physical danger nor threats on her life stop her from achieving her goals. She was a woman ahead of her time as far as her ideas about employee-employer relations were concerned, and she not only expounded on these ideas, but also put her theories to good use. She was one of the most famed women of her time, and can serve as a model for women even today.

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