THE UNFOLDING JOURNEY is a new blog written in association with Legacy Genealogy.

This blog is a blend of disciplines that reveal the rich texture of culture and history that surrounded your ancestors' lives, as well as your own. We will take you beyond just the names, dates, and places to give you the "back story" for the reasons your ancestors thought what they thought and did what they did. We invite you to also visit us at the Legacy Genealogy facebook page at http://facebook.com/legacygenealogy

Thursday, August 30, 2012


On April 19, 1775, the first armed conflict of the American Revolutionary War occurred at the small towns of Lexington and Concord, in Massachusetts. The basics of the story of that day have been passed down to us in a fairly accurate manner. But there are stories about these engagements that have been lost over time. We have gathered some here, but first we need to set the stage for what happened that day.

About 3,000 British troops were stationed in Boston. It was the seventh year of military occupation. They were there to enforce the laws that Parliament and the King had issued, many of which punished the Massachusetts Colony. While the British had a strong hold on Boston, they had little control of the territory outside of the city. The military governor, General Thomas Gage, received secret orders from London for his troops to march to the town of Concord, where intelligence believed that colonial militia had hidden an extensive cache of weapons. If his men could capture or destroy the arms, further unrest may be quelled.  

What the British didn’t know was that, thanks to a very active intelligence network, the colonials had received word weeks earlier that a campaign would be targeting their stock of arms. Before a strike could be organized, the weapons and ammunition had been long since relocated to hiding places in other towns. Gage gave each commander secret orders that they were not to open until under way. But the colonials had already received the details of the plan even before the British officers opened their orders. There is a story that says that the source of the information leak was none other than Margaret Gage, the wife of General Gage, who was known to be a colonial sympathizer (pictured here).

The plan also included the capture of Samuel Adams and John Hancock. They left Boston 10 days earlier having received word of the secret London instructions, even before Gage had been notified. The two remained in Lexington until April 18th before moving again.

On the night of the 18th, William Dawes, Paul Revere (pictured here), and Samuel Prescott set out on horseback to active the colonials “alarm and muster” warning system that had been in place for months. As they alerted farms along their way, others rang bells, beat drums, fired guns, and built bonfires to spread the word of the troop’s advance. The Legend of Paul Revere has been heightened by Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” which says, “It was two by the village clock when he came to the bridge in Concord town.” Well, Paul Revere never made it to Concord. He ran into a British patrol and was captured.

We have the image of a large, professional British army marching steadfastly toward a ragged group of militia men. Actually, the British force was made up of only about 700 men. The British march to Concord was disorganized from the beginning. Colonel Francis Smith, the mission commander, was late arriving. The troops were to be ferried across the river to Cambridge but the boat-loading operation had been not been organized. When the troops disembarked, they had to wade through waist deep water to get ashore. There was a long delay getting their gear unloaded. It wasn’t until 2:00 am when they finally got moving; with muddy shoes, wet uniforms, and with no extra ammunition (it had been neglected to be issued).

The Battle at Lexington was in reality not much of a battle at all; it was mostly a staring contest. The British arrived at dawn. The 80 militiamen, who had been waiting most of the night, spilled out of the Buckman Tavern and stood on the village green, watching the soldiers. Spectators lined up along the road to watch from a safer distance. John Parker, the militia commander, saw that he was outmanned and decided not to engage the British; he also knew that the colonist’s weapons had already been moved out of Concord. Parker thought that the enemy would find that out and simply march back to Boston before midday. His men were lined up in plain sight, and not blocking the road. But the regulars prepared to advance and fired a volley that killed eight militiamen. Later the British said that the colonials fired first. Some witnesses said that the first shot fired (the “shot heard ‘round the world”) was from a colonial onlooker who may have been inside the tavern. The soldiers charged with bayonets, and Parker ordered his men to withdraw.

Most of the area’s militiamen, the “minute men,” were organized and waiting near Concord, nearly 2,000 strong. When the British column arrived at Concord, they began to search for military supplies. All they found were three cannons buried behind a tavern and 550 pounds of musket balls, which were thrown into a pond. All of the musket balls were recovered by the colonists after the British left.   

The militiamen and the British soldiers were about 50 yards apart, separated by the Concord River. The colonists were told to load their muskets but not to fire unless fired at. Suddenly, a shot rang out. There was no controversy this time that the shot came from the British. Unlike Lexington, the soldiers found themselves outnumbered. Many of them were young and not accustomed to combat. The tense fight only lasted 10 minutes. The British troops began to flee. The Americans were shocked by their victory. Some began to advance on the retreating soldiers, but many simply went home to protect their families.

British Commander Smith considered surrender. A rescue effort was launched by the British that included 1,000 men. They arrived on the scene about 2:00 pm. But in their haste to depart from Boston, they left the ammunition wagons behind. Discovering this, Governor Gage dispatched the wagons, guarded by only 14 men. The ammunition train was intercepted by a group of older former militiamen, all well into their sixties, who demanded that they surrender. The British ignored them. The old men opened fire and the soldiers threw their muskets into a stream and surrendered.

General William Heath, a colonist, ordered the men to surround the retreating British and fire at them from a distance behind trees and stone walls to minimize casualties. Militiamen on horseback would appear on the road ahead of the British, dismount and fire; then remount and ride farther on to repeat the tactic. Fresh militia arrived raising the colonial strength to 3,800. As the British entered Cambridge, the militiamen emerged from their covered positions and formed into regular battle lines. By the time the soldiers reached Boston and safety, the city was surrounded by 15,000 armed colonists.

To win support for their cause in England, the colonists collected testimonies from the militiamen and captured soldiers that painted the British as the aggressors and the Americans as innocent victims. They sent these documents to London on the fastest ship available, and they were published in London newspapers two weeks before Gage’s official military report arrived. This gave the colonists a political victory to go along with their battlefield victory.

For the next 200 years, popular perceptions of this first conflict of the Revolutionary War have changed and many of the details have been lost. Today, Lexington and Concord are seen as a symbol of a people standing up for their independence.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


1968 had been a terrible year so far. The “Summer of Love” the previous year was long forgotten. Americans were greeted by newspapers and TV broadcasts telling them about the Tet Offensive in Vietnam (January) which elevated the level of brutality a well as increasing Lyndon Johnson’s determination to send more U.S. troops over there. In April, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis and riots broke out across the country. Then in June, Robert Kennedy was shot in the head after winning the California primary. Over 100 American universities had been shut down by protests against the war. Lyndon Johnson’s approval rating dropped to 23%, and he decided not to run for another term. Hubert Humphrey entered the presidential race in April. Many saw him as just “Johnson’s Man.”

If you are under forty years old, you won’t remember what happened in Chicago between August 25th and 29th in 1968. It’s only history. But if you are older, you may recall one of the most divisive events in contemporary American history (in one of the most tumultuous years). During those five days, the forces of the “Establishment” and law and order faced off against the rising anger of the “Anti-war” liberal youth of the country during the Democratic Party National Convention. Violence spilled out onto the streets and parks of Chicago. It was 44 years ago this week.

The primary reason for the demonstrations held outside the Democratic National Convention was opposition to the war in Vietnam. The riots that ensued can be blamed on both the protestors and the police. Most anti-war protestors were anxious to ignite a confrontation with authorities and hoped that the national TV networks would broadcast the outcome, raising sympathy for their cause. The police, directed by Mayor Richard Daley, were just as determined to challenge all threats to their authority and suppress any demonstration.

Many Democrats had wanted to move the convention from Chicago to Miami. They were concerned about logistical problems (a continuing telephone strike) and disruptive protests outside. Most of all, they feared Mayor Richard Daley’s hard line when dealing with demonstrators (he had given “shoot to kill” instructions to police during the riots after MLK’s death). The television networks also wanted to move the event to Miami. Daley would have none of it. He pledged to prohibit disorderly protests, and threatened to withdraw Illinois’ delegate votes from Humphrey. There was even a rumor that LBJ had said, “Miami is not an American city.” 

Those on both sides began their preparations well before the August convention. Young left wing activists met in March to form an alliance and plan their protests. The key organizers were David Dellinger (1915-2004) of theNational Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam” (MOBE) and Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis, co-founders of the “Students for a Democratic Society” (SDS), the parent organization of the “Weather Underground.” Joining them were Abbie Hoffman pictured here (1936-1989) and Jerry Rubin (1938-1994), co-founders of the “Youth International Party” (YIP) as well as two activist professors, Lee Wiener (University of Oregon) and John Froines (Northwestern University, now UCLA). Allied in principle, but with different tactical objectives, was the Black Panther Party represented by its co-founder Bobby Seale. This group, excluding Seale, would become known as the “Chicago Seven.”

In April, during the demonstrations following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Mayor Richard Daley ruled Chicago with an iron fist. His orders were to, “shoot to kill any arsonist and shoot to maim or cripple anyone looting.” Three weeks later, an anti-war march in Chicago drew 8,000 people; and when the march ended, the police waded into the demonstrators with clubs. By late July, both MOBE and the YIP Party applied for permits to camp in Lincoln Park, and to march and rally for peace. All permits were denied.

Six thousand Illinois National Guard troops were mobilized and trained in riot-control tactics. At Ft. Hood in Texas, regular Army soldiers were being prepared to be flown to Chicago for riot duty. The night before they were to leave, some of them decided to refuse deployment. The next morning, 43 of the soldiers were arrested, all were African Americans. For days prior to the opening of the convention, potential protestors were trained in crowd protection techniques, and in karate. Anyone in the know was convinced that a violent confrontation was unavoidable. 

The day before the convention commenced, 5,000 people had gathered for “The Festival of Life” concert in Lincoln Park. After the program (and now after the curfew time), most of the crowd began to leave the park ahead of a police sweep. A line of police moved into the crowd, pushing it into the street. Many of the attendees including reporters and photographers were clubbed and some arrested.

On this day, Mayor Daley formally opened the convention. He promises the delegates, “As long as I’m Mayor, there’s going to be law and order in Chicago.”

Hubert Humphrey arrived in Chicago with the nomination effectively sewn up, having a 100 to 200 vote margin in his favor. He had the support of Southern Democrats, African Americans, and organized labor. Johnson had seen to it that delegates from those states loyal to Humphrey were assigned to the best seats in the convention hall.

In spite of his delegate lead, Hubert Humphrey wasn’t expecting clear sailing. After the death of Robert Kennedy, a number of state delegations decided to remain uncommitted, hoping that Ted Kennedy would run in his brother’s place. Daley also kept the Illinois delegation uncommitted. The weekend before the convention, on network TV, Humphrey restated his position that he supported Johnson’s pro-war policies. Delegations from 15 states tried to unseat Humphrey delegates in favor of anti-war delegates.

That evening about 2,000 people had gathered in the park and built a makeshift barricade against the police line. A police car that moved forward and knocked down the barricade is battered with rocks. The police move in with tear gas. The violence is worse than the previous night. Even some residents were pulled off their porches and clubbed. More reporters are attacked on this night than at any other time.

In addition to the politicians and regular delegates, those inside attending the convention included Paul Newman (delegate) and Arthur Miller (delegate) both pictured here, Julian Bond (delegate), Joanne Woodward, Gore Vidal, Tony Randal, Shirley MacLaine, Sonny Bono, Dinah Shore, and Warren Beatty.

Outside on the streets were authors Norman Mailer, Terry Southern, and Allen Ginsberg; entertainers Dick Gregory, Mary Travers, Phil Ochs, and Peter Yarrow; and Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Also outside was the film crew of director Haskell Wexler who was filming the demonstrations to be used in scenes for his motion picture “Medium Cool.” His story takes place in Chicago in 1968, and uses real actors and a fictional script combined with actual documentary film as background. It features confrontations between the police and demonstrators. This 1969 film presents an eerie but fascinating merging of art and politics.

During the afternoon, about 200 members of the American Friends Service Committee and other pacifist groups march toward the convention to ask the delegates to place a peace provision into the Democratic Platform. They are joined by about 1,000 more marchers. A short time later, the police stop the march. After being allowed to stay where they stood until the evening, the police then aggressively move in to disperse them. Resistors were arrested. That night, Bobby Seale speaks to a crowd urging people to defend themselves “by any means” if attacked by the police.

That same evening, a group of 200 clergy carrying a 12’ tall cross are joined by 2,000 demonstrators on the edge of Lincoln Park. As soon as the curfew time arrives, tear gas and club swinging police clear the park.

Inside the convention the most contentious issue by far was Vietnam. A debate was planned on the minority proposal to include a “peace plank” in the party’s platform of stated beliefs. The convention managers (largely controlled by Richard Daley) scheduled the debate for late in the evening on Tuesday, after prime time TV coverage was shut down. But the pro-peace delegates had staged a noisy protest that forced the debate to be rescheduled to this afternoon. The Humphrey/Johnson position on Vietnam was approved anyway. A huge and angry delegate demonstration followed. The New York and California delegations sang “We Shall Overcome” and they were joined by other states marching around the convention floor. Convention controllers tried to hide the rebellious delegations (those favoring the peace initiative) in the back of the hall and turned off their microphones.

While trying to get to a Georgia delegate for an interview, correspondent Dan Rather was forcefully grabbed by security guards and roughed up. CBS anchor Walter Cronkite directed his attention, and the TV cameras, toward Rather who had his microphone headset on. You could hear him say, “Don’t push me; take your hands off me unless you plan to arrest me.” The guards continued their assault and punched Rather in front of a national audience. Rather continued, “This is the kind of thing that has been going on outside the hall, this is the first time we’ve had it happen inside the hall.” Cronkite replied, “I think we’ve got a bunch of thugs here.” Newsmen Mike Wallace of CBS and John Chancellor and Edwin Newman of NBC were also roughed up by the guards. Over the following two days, fifteen other newsmen were attacked by either the police or convention security guards.

Humphrey’s name was put into nomination as was Sen. George McGovern’s. McGovern was being nominated in a speech by Sen. Abraham Ribicoff, who stopped in mid-address to tell the delegates what was going on outside the convention hall. He said, “With George McGovern as President, we wouldn’t have these Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago.” Daley, sitting just in front of the podium, exploded in anger. He shook his fist furiously at Ribicff and shouted using the most vitriol profanity imaginable. Some observers said that threats were made.


Ten to fifteen thousand gather at Grant Park for speeches and an anti-war rally. Police and National Guardsmen surround the crowd. During the many speeches, news of the defeat of the “peace plank” is heard on radio. Young men began to lower the American flag. Police push through the crowd to arrest them. Another small group finishes the flag lowering and raises a blood spattered shirt as a replacement. A line of demonstrators forms between the crowd and the police. The police charge the line beating some people into unconsciousness.

About 6,000 people break off from the crowd and move toward the Amphitheatre were the delegates are in session. The police refuse to allow them to pass. The bridges across the river are sealed off by the National Guard armed with machine guns and grenade launchers. Finally, the demonstrators find a single bridge across the river that has not been closed, and cross. Thousands of people surge onto Michigan Avenue. James Rochford, the Police Superintendent, orders his officers to clear the streets.

Scores of marchers, bystanders, reporters, and medical personnel were severely beaten by the police. Fumes from the tear gas used by the police (as well as stink bombs thrown by the protestors) drifted into surrounding buildings. Hundreds were injured and hundreds were arrested. Many fight back and the attack intensifies. The conflict lasts only 17 minutes but is filmed by TV crews positioned on top of the Hilton Hotel. It is seen by the delegates watching monitors inside the convention hall and by a nationwide TV audience. Five hundred delegates leave the convention and join the 4,000 protestors in Grant Park. 

Humphrey won the nomination of his party. Today the convention featured an orchestrated pro-Daley demonstration inside the hall. Hundreds of “We Love You Daley” signs were carried around the convention hall. This left a sour taste in the mouths of many delegates; just as the image of Chicago had turned bitter in their minds.

The morning after the convention ended, at 5:00 A.M., police raid the rooms occupied by supporters of peace candidate Eugene McCarthy. The police say that objects were allegedly thrown from their hotel rooms. Originally a small incident, it escalates and McCarthy campaign workers are beaten.

The riot by the numbers:
27,900 Troops (11,900 police, 15,000 National Guard/U.S. Army, 1,000 Secret Service)
12,000 Demonstrators (but this was likely closer to 15,000)
1,192 Injured (192 Police: 49 hospitalized; 1000+ Demonstrators: 111 hospitalized)
17 Members of the media were attacked by the police.   
668 Arrested (all Demonstrators)
1 Known death (a Demonstrator)

(During that same week, 308 Americans were killed and 1,144 were wounded in Vietnam)

Seven months later, a Chicago Grand Jury indicted the seven principal organizers of the demonstrations, “The Chicago Seven.” They were charged with crossing state lines to incite a riot. Their trial began in September 1969. Five of them, plus their two attorneys (for contempt of court), were convicted. Wiener and Froines, were acquitted. All those convicted were sentenced to five years in prison. In 1972, the Circuit Court of Appeals reversed all convictions.

Haynes Johnson, a reporter covering the convention for the Washington Post, wrote,” The 1968 Chicago convention became a lacerating event, a distillation of a year of heartbreak, assassinations, riots, and a breakdown in law and order that made it seem as if the country were coming apart. In its psychic impact, and its long term political consequences, it eclipsed any other such convention in American history, destroying faith in politicians, in the political system, in the country, and in its institutions. No one who was there, or watched it on television, could escape the memory of what took place before their eyes.”

Saturday, August 25, 2012


On Monday morning, November 9, 1874, the New York Herald newspaper published a story that sent the citizens of the city into a panic. The paper reported the events of the previous afternoon and evening revealing that most of the animals at the Central Park Zoo had escaped and were roaming city streets; randomly killing men, women, and children. The paper said that by dawn 49 people were known dead and over 200 had been injured. The National Guard was called out and was battling the most ferocious animals block by block. The mayor issued a proclamation which said, “All citizens are enjoined to keep within their houses or residences until the wild animals now at large are captured or killed.”

“ESCAPED ANIMALS ROAM STREETS OF MANHATTAN” shrieked the headlines. “The terrible events of yesterday - the bursting forth of the most ferocious of the beasts within the menagerie of the Park, the awful slaughter that ensued, the exciting conflicts between the infuriated animals, the frightful deaths that followed, and the destruction of property are making an era in the history of New York not soon to be forgotten.”

“It is safe to say that at least 20,000 people filled the various walks and avenues yesterday. To nine-tenths of the pedestrian visitors, the Menagerie (the zoo) is the chief source of attraction. . . This writer stood within a hundred yards of the menagerie when the first ominous symptoms of the approaching catastrophe were heard. . . The crowd fled in all directions, women falling as they ran and no one staying to help them up”

“The huge rhinoceros had broken loose. He had apparently made no more of the massive barrier that enclosed him than that of a sheet of pasteboard.” The rhino had broken open the pens reserved for the truly dangerous animals. “The lion bounded into the center aisle of the building and three cages containing the black and spotted leopards, the tiger and tigresses, the black wolf and the spotted hyenas were sprung. . . It was followed by a series of fights between the liberated beasts.”

“They’re coming; they’re all loose,” the account continued. “Police armed with revolvers and citizens with rifles were on the grounds. . . Toward Fifth Avenue came the Numidia lion, with a series of bounds. So sudden, fierce, and powerful was the leap he made into the midst of the storming party that he scattered half a hundred armed and unarmed men.”

The animals continued their rampage. An anaconda attempted to eat a giraffe, a Bengal Tiger was shot on Madison Avenue, a panther attacked worshipers inside a church, and another tiger leaped on to a ferryboat. A list of specific names of the mutilated and trampled people was included in the article. The front page story was six columns wide and ran to 10,000 words describing the carnage in bloody detail. The article caused widespread panic across the city.

The people who didn’t read all the way to the end of the story missed an important detail, however. The last paragraph read, “Of course the entire story given above is a pure fabrication. Not one word of it is true. Not a single act or incident described has taken place.” WHAT? WHY?

The New York Herald was one of the most widely read newspapers of its day. Its publisher, James Gordon Bennett Jr., had taken over the business from his father only a few years before. He was eager to establish his own reputation. He had financed Henry Stanley’s search for Dr. Livingstone; but now he wanted to take another step to advance his own power and authority. Bennett was among the elite of New York City and was well known for bragging about his influence. He claimed that he had so much control over New York that he could keep the entire city in their houses for a whole day. At long last, someone called him on his boast, and made a bet with the young show off.

Bennett had proven his point, in a most unethical way, with his fictitious story of the animal escapes. Competing newspapers in New York, and across the country, deplored the hoax. The New York Times wrote, “If charming sketches of dead children and dying old ladies does not move the reader to roars of laughter, his sense of fun must be somewhat different from that with which the proprietor of the New York Herald has been endowed.”

The New York Herald never offered an apology. No charges were ever brought against the paper. And James Gordon Bennett Jr. sang his own praises for another half century.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Since ancient times, the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used metal lead styluses to scratch images onto papyrus. Not exactly a pencil but the idea was there. About 1500 a large deposit of crystallized carbon was found in Cumbria, England. The local farmers used it to mark their livestock. The material was very pure and solid. Today we know it as graphite.

The economic value of graphite was huge and the Royal Family knew it. They took over and guarded all the graphite mine deposits in the kingdom. But crude pencils were still made out of graphite sticks smuggled out of the mines. For years England maintained a monopoly on the production of stick pencils.

The French and the Germans, with no pure graphite, were not able to compete with the English for almost 200 years. Then they invented a way to use powdered graphite (a poorer quality than solid graphite but it was all they had). They mixed the powder with sulfur and antimony to make at least acceptable pencil sticks. About the same time, two Italians devised a way to encase the graphite powder sticks in hollowed-out Juniper wood, and the modern type pencil was created.

In 1795, Frenchman Nicholas Conte discovered a method of mixing graphite powder with clay and baking it in a kiln. By changing the ratio of powder and clay, the hardness of the pencil rod could be varied, thus giving us the wide range of pencil softness we have today. Sixty years later, Hymen Lipan invented the attached eraser fixed to the end of the pencil; although outside of America, people use pencils without attached erasers.

During the 19th Century, Eberhard Faber and Joseph Dixon, two pencil moguls, established techniques to mass-produce the common pencil and lower the cost. By 1900 240,000 pencils were sold per day in the United States. Red Cedar and Incense Cedar woods are used as they didn’t splinter when the pencil is sharpened. The colors that pencils are painted vary by country. Americans like yellow, Germans and Brazilians prefer green or blue, southern Europeans like red or black, Australians favor red pencils with black rings, and Indians dark red with black lines. Today, nearly 14 billion pencils are produced annually worldwide.

Many famous people chose pencils over pens. Benjamin Franklin sold pencils, George Washington surveyed with them; John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, and Vladimir Nabokov only wrote with pencils, and Henry David Thoreau actually designed pencils before becoming a recluse; his father owned a pencil making company.

Here is some interesting pencil trivia for you:   

The average pencil holds enough graphite to draw a line 35 miles long or write 45,000 words, depending on how often and how much you sharpened it. (We wonder who tested this theory?)

The French came up with the idea of using rubber to erase pencil marks. Previously, writers removed mistakes with bread crumbs.

Eberhard Faber built the first American factory to mass-produce pencils in 1861. Just in time to make pencils standard issue for every Union soldier during the Civil War.

Today, more than half of all lead pencils are made in China. They produce about 7 billion per year. (Enough so that each Chinese person can have their own)

Early American space missions included pencils among their tools but scientists were worried about the inflammability of wooden pencils in a pure oxygen environment. After the Apollo I fire, pencils were banned in favor of pens.

The world’s largest pencil was manufactured in New York City in 2007 by Ashrita Furman, a professional setter of Guinness records (he has over 300). His pencil is 76 feet long, weighs 18,000 lbs. (4,500 lbs. are graphite) and cost him $20,000 to build.

If you accidently stab yourself with a pencil point, don’t worry about lead poisoning. Lead pencils have never contained lead; only clay and graphite. BUT until a few years ago, the yellow paint used on the pencil may have contained lead, so it shouldn’t be chewed on.

The average pencil is seven inches long, with just a half-inch eraser. So take heart, optimism is not dead.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Elizabeth Jane Cochran was born near Pittsburgh in 1864. She always wanted to be different, to stand out from the crowd. She used the nickname “Pink” and changed her last name to Cochrane (adding the “e” to make it more sophisticated). A typical teenager? Maybe. But the rest of her life was as different as it could possibly be for an American woman in the 19th Century.

When the family moved to Pittsburgh in 1880, young Elizabeth became exposed to the city’s newspapers and loved reading them. She dreamed of finding work as a newspaper writer. One day, see read an editorial critical of the new women’s movement. It proclaimed that women belonged in the home doing domestic tasks like cooking, cleaning, and raising children. The editorial stated that working women were a “monstrosity.” Elizabeth fired off a letter to the editor refuting the articles conclusions. The paper’s editor was so impressed with her arguments that he hired her to write for it.

At that time, no female reporter ever used her real name in the newspapers. They always had a pen name, many men did the same. That suited Elizabeth just fine, she liked the idea. The name that stuck was NELLIE BLY. It was taken from the popular song “Nelly Bly” written by a fellow Pittsburgher, the composer Stephen Foster. Foster died the same year that Elizabeth was born.

Her early articles were about the hardships of working women, calling for reform of the state’s divorce laws, and the life of a factory girl in Pittsburgh. She once posed as a poor sweatshop worker to expose the cruelty under which women worked. When the shop owners threatened to pull their newspaper advertising, the paper took Nellie off her assignments and put her on the flower show circuit. Nellie hated it. She decided to accept the paper’s six month assignment in Mexico to write about life there. Of course, Nellie decided to focus on the poverty and political corruption in the country. Soon the articles got her ejected from Mexico.

Upon returning to the U.S. in 1887, Nellie decided to skip Pittsburgh and try her journalistic hand in New York City. She was able to talk her way into a reporter’s job with “The York World” paper (owned by Joseph Pulitzer).

Her first assignment was to go undercover by feigning insanity and getting herself admitted at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum to investigate reports of brutality and neglect at that institution. After impersonating a “mad” person, she returned 10 days later with stories of cruel beatings, ice cold baths, and forced meals. Her expose’ prompted a grand jury to launch its own investigation which led to many changes in the system.

At that time, such stories were called “stunt reporting’ where women reporters risked their reputations to enter into the man’s world of journalism. In fact, Nellie Bly at the age of 23 was the inventor of our modern investigative journalism. Nellie’s personality was always part of her articles. She didn’t hide her feelings and reactions to whatever story she covered.

Nellie Bly reached the peak of her fame in 1889. The “New York World” thought it would be a good idea, and sell papers, to stage a race with another paper to send a man around the world to break the fictional record in Jules Verne’s book “Around the World in Eighty Days.” Nellie threatened to do it in even less time for another newspaper if they didn’t agree to send her instead of a man. They relented. She competed against another women reporter from Cosmopolitan, going in the opposite direction.

On November 14th, Nellie began her journey in New Jersey with only about $300 (in a bag tied around her neck) and a few clothes in a small suitcase. The newspaper conducted a contest with readers to see who could predict her total time. They sold a lot of papers. She traveled by ship, train, rickshaw, burro, or anything to make the necessary connections.

Nellie arrived back on January 25, 1890. It took her 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes, and 14 seconds to circumnavigate the globe. She was greeted by crowds, bands, fireworks, and a parade. Nellie Bly was thrust into the world’s spotlight.

Her lasting contribution, however, was to publicize women’s rights issues. She also exposed injustice and corruption in public and private sectors, and prompted many social reforms. Nellie also became a trailblazer for women in a male dominated profession, and was the originator of investigative journalism.