Episode 20: Nellie Bly
For this episode we focus on a woman who embodied sass, drive, creativity, brains, bravery, and heart. She was a journalist, a novelist, an adventurer, an inventor, an advocate for social reform and did it all under a name that wasn’t her own!
Elizabeth Jane Cochran was born May 5, 1864 in Cochran’s Mill, PA. Her father, Judge Michael Cochran was a self made man with a lot of power, money and not a lot of forethought: When little Elizabeth (who the family called “Pink”) he died without a will.
SWOOP! (That’s the sound of his children showing up with their hands out.)
Mary Jane was forced to sell their beautiful home, and the family moved to much less lush surroundings. Of course, we will tell you the rest of the tale in the podcast, but let’s just say that the family hit some hard times. Mary Jane had a less than successful marriage, Pink had a less than successful education, and the family saw a gritty side of humanity.
It was during the floundering years that Pink read an article in the Pittsburgh Dispatch that would change her life. Enraged with the message, she penned an anonymous letter signed, “Lonely Orphan Girl”. The letter led to a job, and a nom de plume based on a Stephen Foster Song, Nelly Bly.
We chat about her days at the Pittsburgh Dispatch and her first adventure in Mexico as a correspondent, the nerve of her move to New York, her wit and schemes that landed her first undercover assignment, “Ten Days in a Mad House”.
Nelly may have been trying to earn a living, stand out and survive in a male dominated world, but her daring adventures led to social reform, too. BONUS!
The professional life of Nellie Bly was legendary and personally, she had some adventures and very quick romance that led to marriage to a man 40 years her senior and a second career as a head of industry.
The latter years subjects of Nellie’s stories were more about social reform than attention-grabbing gimmicks. She rallied for poor women and mothers and was a champion for orphans. She worked tirelessly…really, as in: she worked herself sick. She neglected both her health and her medications until Elizabeth Cochran, Nellie Bly, died at the age of 58 in 1922 from pneumonia.
Time Travel With The History Chicks
Both of us began our adventure with Nellie by listening to the Librivox recording of Around The World in 72 Days . Download from itunes or check out their website! You can read that as well as 10 Days in a Madhouse online .
Yes, we know, some of you are more visual learners! There is a PBS American Experience for that!
Is there a Nellie Bly website? Of course there is! Right here It seems aimed at a youngish demographic, but there is a lot of research material on it that is not all juvenile.
Gee, we wonder if a certain podcast/website that we adore and is based in New York ever did anything about Nellie since she lived there? Well of course the Bowery Boys did, here is a piece about the asylum where she got her start. Wait, that sounds bad…
Books! Here is what we felt was the best biography about Nellie that we found:
Nellie Bly: Daredevil Reporter Feminist by Brooke KroegorAnother one we would recommend
And for the younger crowd (or those of you who like lots of pictures…no shame in that!)
You know what would be neat? If someone made a musical out of Nellie’s story! Oh wait, they did! If anyone has ever seen this, we would love to hear what you thought! Stunt Girl! The Musical!