Do you have the Batdance stuck in your head yet? I still do. Vicki Vale…Vicki Vale… If you know of any other songs about female journalists, send me a comment. I’m pretty desperate to get a new song in my noggin. I’m ok with still having female groundbreaking journalists on my mind though. I keep finding more to read about but you really can’t beat the founding sisters of print. I shared just a little about Ida B. Wells-Barnett last time (I’ve already learned more about her since – she was remarkable). Another great kick ass lady journalist was Nellie Bly. While Ida focused on shining a light on race, prejudice, and inequities, Nellie was about fighting against men telling women what they could do.
I have to admit that my introduction to Nellie Bly was SUPER late. I think I heard the name in high school but it wasn’t until Abby Bartlett schooled her husband, President Jed Barlett, on one of the BEST SHOWS EVER, West Wing, that I learned about Nellie. I wasn’t sure if she was real or if she was a brainstorm of the immensely talented show writers so I googled (I’m looking at you, Qumar and the Republic of Equatorial Kundu). Or rather I did the paper version of Google – I encyclopediaed (not sure that’s a word).
At 16, Nellie (born Elizabeth Jane Cochrane) was irritated by a column titled “What Girls Are Good For”. I’m annoyed by the title so I can imagine how Nellie felt. She wrote the editor and after a few steps, she received a column of her own. Her pseudonym became “Nellie Bly”, thus the name change. She focused on working women and their daily lives. Unfortunately sexism reared its ugly head again and she was pressured to write about “lady” issues. She wasn’t having it and left to become a foreign correspondent. She returned to the States after being threatened by the Mexican dictator. At 23, she convinced The New York World newspaper to let her go undercover at a women’s asylum. She spent 10 days in and her resulting report highlighted the mistreatment and the frequent misdiagnosis of the other inmates (including herself). It led to a grand jury investigation which called for an increased $850,000 increase in budget for the asylum.
After her reporting of the insane asylum, Ms. Bly decided to travel the world in less than 80 days, to prove the Jules Verne plot could be achieved. She beat the record and the book’s plot by 8 days. There had been another reporter chasing the same dream but she beat them too.
She retired for a while from journalism at 31 when she married a millionaire 42 years her senior. She started inventing things including a milk can and a stacking garbage can. She returned to the written word by reporting on the front lines of WW1 and the Women’s Suffrage March of 1913. She also accurately predicted that women wouldn’t gain the vote until 1920. I tried to find more on that story because that’s some eerie predicting but there’s very little about it.