Those of us who are interested in the study of history should really consider the fact that women also played a role in history. Many women are known for things that shocked the women's world in history. One woman specifically caught my eye and made me a believer in the history of women. She was Elizabeth Cochrane, also known as the famous Nellie Bly. Those of us interested in the past history of women are sure to know the woman who travelled around the world in 72 days.Nellie Bly was born in Cochran's Mills, Pennsylvania in the year 1867. She was an American journalist noted for her enterprise in news reporting. She served on the editorial staffs of the Pittsburgh Dispatch, the New York World, and the New York Journal. In the year 1888, she spent 10 days in a mental hospital located on Blackwell's Island in New York City (now known as Welfare Island). She attempted this to gather information for a story on how the treatment of the patients was in this specific institution. It all started out as a dare for this woman. The New York World managing editor, John Cockerill, suggested that an outlandish stunt be designed to attract more readers. Cockerill would have Nellie act as an insane woman and allow herself to be committed to Blackwell's Island--New York City's notorious insane asylum. What resulted was a searing expose that got the attention of reformers and readers alike. She marked a time in history that was remembered forever. The mistreatment of patients was shown in the front pages of the New York World and eventually the asylum was closed down. Nellie herself described the asylum as follows from a memoir gained on the internet about her stay: "The insane asylum on Blackwell's Island is a human rat-trap. It is easy to get into the place, but once yo are there, it is impossible to get out." She showed enormous amounts of bravery to be put into this place and write a story about it. She was magnificent with the other patients. To be put in a place like Blackwell's Island must have been like today's Bellvue. Her description of the asylum being like a rat-trap was the best metaphor anyone could use. A rat-trap enables the rat from escaping and being free unless he or she is let go. Her metaphor described the asylum to the T, especially when it came down to the fact of being stuck. Once you were in Blackwell's Island, there was no way you would be able to get out unless you were let out. Nellie Bly was not only known for her 10 day stay at Blackwell's Island, but she was also known and made famous for her prestigious trip around the whole world in only 72 days. In 1889, she made a well-publicized-trip around the world by train and steamer. The reader and historian would probably ask why did she do this? This was an attempt to beat the time made by a fictional character named Phileas Fogg. The novel he appeared in was entitled AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS. This novel was written by Jules Verne. Nellie Bly made this trip and completed it in the record time of 72 days, 6 hours, and 11 minutes. She is not only known for this trip she made, but she was also a female journalist which was almost unheard of during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Brooklyn, there is an amusement park by the name of Nellie Bly. You can see it off of the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn. I used to go there as a child before I knew who Nellie Bly even was. I don't know for sure if it was named after her, but I am not the least bit surprised if it was. Nellie is known for writing the following books: Nellie's Book: Around the World in Seventy-Two Days (1890) and Ten Days in a Madhouse (1888). These two works, plus her ongoing prestige and ambition made her a famous and notable woman that defines the meaning of Women's History.
Return to the New York City Women's Biography Hub
Return to the Course Homepage for HST/WMS 386
Send email care of Professor Lavender at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fall Semester 1998. Last modified: 14 December 1998