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Nellie Bly

Journalist / Activist

Born: 5 May 1864
Died: 27 January 1922 (pneumonia)
Birthplace: Cochran's Mills, Pennsylvania
Best known as: Woman journalist who went around the world in 1889

Name at birth: Elizabeth Jane Cochran

Nellie Bly was the pseudonym of Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, a New York journalist whose muckraking made her a 19th century celebrity. A victim of personal hardship growing up, she specialized in stories of the downtrodden, especially indigent women and children. She kicked up dust as the voice of the powerless in Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, and became nationally known for reporting on rotten workplace conditions and government corruption. "Bly" was especially famous for her gutsy undercover assignments, including a brutal 10-day stay in a mental institution in 1887. Her national celebrity reached its peak in 1890 after a 72-day trip around the world, a public relations "challenge" to the character Phileas Fogg from Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days. At the age of 30 Cochrane married Robert Seaman, a 72 year-old businessman, and settled into the life of a New York City matron. Widowed ten years later, she tried to maintain the businesses -- the American Steel Barrel Company and the Ironclad Manufacturing Company -- but various legal disputes and financial woes led to bankruptcy and her return to journalism. She spent World War I reporting from the Russian and Serbian fronts, living mostly in Austria (even after the U.S. broke off diplomatic relations with Austria-Hungary in 1917). Back in New York after the war, Bly wrote for the New York Evening Journal until her untimely death in 1922. The "stunt reporting" that made her famous now qualifies her as a pioneer in the field of investigative journalism.

Extra credit: She added an e to the end of her original surname when she was a teenager... Her nickname as a child was "Pinky"... Her first reporting job was for the Pittsburgh Dispatch... The name Nellie Bly came from a popular song of the era by Stephen Foster ("Nelly Bly").

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