Nellie Bly: Changing the Face of Journalism

Back in the day, 1887 to be exact, journalism was pretty biased. Writer and newspaper jobs in general were also predominantly male so the majority of the stories lacked a female perspective. Controversial topics were also hardly written as opinion pieces, rather they were written jumping between both sides of the argument. Who wants to read that? 

Nellie Bly wanted to change that. Bly walked into the biggest newspaper companies at the time, New York World, and expressed interest in writing a piece about immigrants in America. Her request was pushed aside, instead Nellie was given an assignment to investigate one of the most famous mental hospitals in the United States. Nellie Bly accepted this offer and instead of just arranging a tour of the hospital, she practiced looking and sounding insane in hopes of being institutionalized. The plan worked, Nellie gained entrance and for 10 days collected evidence to expose the down right abuse going on within the walls of this hell. Right then, Nellie Bly made a name for herself in the journalism world. 


A little back story, Nellie, born Elizabeth Cochran, was born on a farm in Pennsylvania within a rural small town area. When she was 6, her father died and to stay afloat the family had to sell the farm. She helped her mom run a boarding house after she had to drop out of teaching school due to money issues. One day while working at the boarding house, Nellie became angry and wrote a letter to the Pittsburgh Dispatch complaining about how negatively they portrayed women in their papers. The editor of the paper was so impressed with Bly’s piece that he printed her letter and offered her a position at the newspaper. When she took the job she changed her name from Elizabeth Cochran to Nellie Bly. She was mainly asked to write pieces for women. Nellie wanted to expand her horizons, thus going on the job hunt that ultimately led to her building up her reputation as a female in a male dominated career.


A little less than a year ago, people decided it was time to pay homage to Nellie Bly by installing a permanent monument representing her legacy. The Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. sponsored a design competition for the monument with a budget of $500,000. The piece is set to open to the public in the spring of 2020.