WHOA NELLIE!! BREAKING THE MOLD
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.
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.
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.
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.