Underrated: Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran (1864-1922), Nellie Bly was a famous journalist who shot to fame with sensational journalism such as ‘Ten Days in a Mad House’ and ‘Around the World in 72 Days.’ Through these reports she demonstrated her mental strength and determination, enduring extreme discomfort and harrowing conditions; not least in the ‘madhouse.’ But her efforts there were worthwhile, and led to social reform.
This is the work for which she is best remembered, but she continued to push for social reform for the rest of her life. Later in life she reported on women’s Suffrage and even became a war correspondent when she happened to be in Europe as WW1 broke out. It was during this time, while in Austria, that she became committed to helping poor women, children and orphans, and when she returned home she used her newspaper column to help find homes for abandoned children, and endevoured to provide childcare so that destitute women could work to feed their families. She worked so hard to help them that she made herself sick, and she died at the age of 57 of pneumonia.
Her most widely known legacy, of pioneering investigative journalism, is a wonderful one for her to have. But it’s a shame that most brief biographies say nothing at all of any of her work which exposed terrible conditions for workers or highlighting the struggles of the poor, even her work in war-torn Europe! Nellie Bly was sensationalist, but she was also sensational, and used her confident voice to expose cruelties done to others. What a wonderful model to follow.