Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Inspirations: Nellie Bly

Nellie on her travels via New York Public Libraries

It has been far too long since I last wrote about one of the people from history that inspire me, and recently as regular readers will know I have been writing a lot about corsets.
Still though the myth prevails that Victorian and Edwardian women were totally incapable of doing anything and just flopped around on fainting couches because of their corsets.
This post is not directly about corsetry, but is instead about a wonderfully inspiring woman who broke new ground in reporting and whose techniques are still used today, and as you can see from the photographs in this post, she did it all whilst corseted.

So fainting couch, much nothing, very fragile, wow.

In 1880 Elizabeth Jane Cochran read an article in Erasmus Wilson's column "Quiet Observer" entitled "What Girls are Good For".
Unfortunately I have been unable to find a scan of it online, although I did find this scan of his column from 1907 that reads much like something you'd still find on /r/theredpill today, however according to Mental Floss the article implied that women should not work and implied that gendered infanticide could deal with the problem of excess women (although apparently this was a joke, and much like MRA jokes of today it wasn't funny).
Elizabeth was so angered by the article that she wrote back under the pseudonym "Lonely Orphan Girl"which so impressed the editor of the  Pittsburgh Dispatch that he offered her a job.

Initially Elizabeth, under her new pen name Nellie Bly tried to write about the hardships women faced in the workplace and how unfair the divorce laws in Pennsylvania were towards women at the time however her publishers attempted to push her into the gardening pages instead so she resigned, and headed to Mexico. 

Aged just 21, Nellie spent six months in Mexico reporting on poverty, local customs and governmental corruption  which led to her being thrown out of the country, after which she headed back home, wrote her first book "Six Months in Mexico" and began reporting for The Pittsburgh Dispatch again for a short time before quitting again, leaving the note "I'm off for New York. Look out for me. Bly."

In New Your Nellie managed to talk her way into the offices of The New York World, which is where she made history. Nellie agreed to go undercover in the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell Island.
In order to get herself committed she practiced "deranged expressions" in front of a mirror for one night and then checked into a boarding house, where she attempted to make the boarders and staff think that she was insane.
Her plan worked and the following day she was arrested and taken to a court where she feigned amnesia and was declared insane by several different doctors and committed to Blackwell Island.

The Google Doodle from May 5th

Nellie found the conditions in the Women's Lunatic Asylum to be utterly horrific, in her ten days she spent there before The New York World had her released after revealing that she was in fact perfectly sane and healthy, she discovered that patients were being beaten, forced to have ice cold baths and being fed food that was spoiled and not fit for human consumption..
As a result an investigation was launched by New York's Grand Jury and both diagnosis of insanity and the conditions in the asylum were greatly improved as a result of Nellie's bit of investigative journalism.
Nellie also wrote her second book about this experience, entitled Ten Days in a Mad House.

In 1888 Nellie came up with the idea of trying to travel the world in eighty days inspired by the Jules Verne novel. A year later her editor agreed to it and she set out on her 24,899-mile journey.
At the same time Cosmopolitan (yes the same Cosmopolitan that now dishes out such wonderful sex advice as "bite his scrotum" and "put tomato sauce on your nipples") sent their reporter Elizabeth Bisland around the world to compete.
Seventy two days later after having even managed to meet Jules Verne during her travels through France, Nellie made it back to New York first, beating Bisland by four days,
Nellie managed to cause quite the scandal by completing much of her trip alone, without a male escort.

In 1895 Nellie temporarily retired from journalism and married Robert Seaman, While married to Seaman she became president of Iron Clad Manufacturing, and went on to invent several new types of iron containers.
Her husband died in 1904, the company went bankrupt a few years later and Nellie returned to journalism.
In 1913 she covered the Women's Suffrage Parade, using the headline "Suffragettes are Men's Superior".
Nellie died of Pneumonia in 1922, aged 57 having had enough adventures to fill several lifetimes.

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