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Nellie Bly
by David for group historicalziegfeld Mar 10, 2011

When considering the great acting performances of the late 19th century, there was one that didn't occur on stage, that may have contributed to more social good than any other in the United States. This occurred when Nellie Bly (pen name of Elizabeth Jane Cochran) feigned madness in order to gain access as a patient to Bellvue Hospital for the Insane in order to report on inmate conditions for Joseph Pulitzer's New York World. The appearance of a beautiful demented woman at the admissions offices was news in itself, with rival newspapers printing "who is this tormented beauty" stories. Bly was subjected to the brutal regimens of control--hours motionless and silent on straight backed wooden benches in unheated rooms--ate the submarginal food and drank the fetid water--witnessed the binding together of distraught patients. After ten days, the New York World intervened, securing her release. Her book TEN DAYS IN A MADHOUSE proved an instant sensation, giving her fame, leading to asylum reform and $850,000 bump in appropriations. An immensely courageous woman, with a lively spirit of adventure, she next proposed to her editors that she attempt to best Phineas Fogg's feat in Jules Verne's Around in the World in 80 Days. She set off in 1889, using existing rail and steamship lines, and performed the circumnavigation in less than 73 days. En route she visited Jules Verne and a Chinese leper colony. Upon her marriage to millionaire manufacturer Robert Seaman in 1895, Bly left reporting. Seaman's death shortly after the wedding left her in charge of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co., maker of sanitary milk cans and iron storage barrels. She proved an energetic CEO until the company was ruined by an employee's embezzlement. She returned to reporting and made the suffragette movement her favorite subject. She died, aged 57, in 1922.

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  • historicalzg - 1Reply
    valadga wrote on Mar 10, '11
    what a fanastic story about a great woman, wonderfull pictures too, thankyou.

    ziegfeldgrrl wrote on Apr 1, '11
    An amazing woman! Thanks so much for all this, David!

    For some reason I had it in my mind that to refer to someone as being like Nellie Bly was a derogatory thing. Of course, I always meant to read about her but like so many of my good intentions....

    Really appreciate this!


    kittyinva wrote on Apr 20, '11
    So interesting, and I enjoyed all the photos (one sees the same old one over and over). I have just one quibble, and it's a personal peeve of mine.....Only people who wished to belittle women fighting for universal suffrage (ie "the vote") called them suffragettes. They were by their own terminology "Suffragists". Thanks for letting this original reader of Ms Magazine and ERA supporter try to set the record straight! (I was VERY young at the time!)

    ziegfeldgrrl wrote on Apr 21, '11
    My goodness, Kathie! You really should write a book!!! I'll take a signed copy, please and thank you :smile:

    The breadth of knowledge of members on this site is awe-inspiring!

    I was lusting over some incredible photos of the early Suffragists in NYC about two weeks ago. I wonder if I was able to buy any? Ahahaha, so many yet unopened photo mailers sitting next to me. So much for the new plan to scan things as I receive them so that one day I might open all the drawers and wicker hampers of photos and things not yet scanned.

    Well on evilbay what goes around comes around again if it does not sell the first time. Hopefully I'll have a bit more loose change when those photos return.
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