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Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly
Ink and watercolor on 9″ x 12″ watercolor paper
The latest addition to the ‘She Changed the World’ collection!

Elizabeth Cochran Seaman (1864-1922), more widely known by her pen name Nellie Bly, is a pioneer in the field of journalism. After seeing a column in the Pittsburgh Dispatch entitled “What Girls Are Good For”, she penned a rebuttal to the newspaper. The quality of the piece impressed the editor so much that he hired her, bequeathing her with the Nellie Bly pen name as women did not write under their real names at the time. She initially did a series of investigative articles on female factory workers, but the paper pushed her to the ‘women’s pages’ sections. Dissatisfied, she transferred to be the foreign correspondent in Mexico. There she spent half a year reporting on the customs and lifestyles of the Mexican people, as well as critical reports of the government.

In 1887 she left the paper after again being relegated to the ‘women’s pages’ and moved to Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World paper. She took an undercover assignment in a women’s asylum, posing as an insane person. She fooled a judge and multiple doctors, who had her committed to Bellevue Hospital. There she encountered inhumane conditions such as rotten food, beatings from the nurses, and unacceptable protection from the cold. Her reporting led to system-wide changes and an alteration in perception of mental illness.

The following year Bly pitched the idea of recreating Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ journey. Leaving New York with a dress, some changes of underwear, an overcoat, and a few hundred dollars. She made the trip in a record-setting 73 days. She journeyed through England, France, Brindisi, the Suez Canal, Colombo, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. Not bad for someone a few years earlier sent a letter to the editor!

She later married millionaire Robert Seaman, soon taking over control of his manufacturing company after his passing. During that time she invented many items, including an improved milk can and a stacking garbage can. After employee embezzlement shuttered the business she returned to journalism, covering the first World War and the women’s suffrage movement.

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