The History of Nellie Bly
Born in Cochran Mills as Elizabeth Jane Cochran
History of Elizabeth Jane Cochran/Nellie Bly
Family Moved to this house in Apollo at 6 Years Old
Elizabeth Jane Cochran as a Young Girl
Took Pen Name of Nellie Bly as a Reporter
History of Elizabeth Jane Cochran/Nellie Bly
She was born on May 5, 1864 in Cochran Mills, a tiny town in Armstrong County where she lived with a household full of brothers who constantly tested her. The family eventually moved from the country to the river town of Apollo. Her father, a judge, died when she was six years old.
Indiana State Normal School was barely four years old when Cochrne (she added the "e" for flair)- enrolled in September 1879, and lived on the fourth floor of John Sutton Hall. She was a scholar without a scholarship, wihout much of an opportunity to work her way through school in nineteenth-century America. And, her family lacked the wherewithal to support her in her quest for an education. Thus, her formal education ended abruptly, as did her plans to teach, when she dropped out just before Chrstmas that same year. She was only fifteen. One can only imagine what greater heights this woman might have reached had she been able to complete her studies. The courses that she was able to pursue at Indiana, however, no doubt aided her immensly in becoming a highly successful journalist.
The family moved to Oakland near Pittsburgh and then to Old Allegheny City on the present North Side. She and the family struggled, working at whatever job came along and it wasn't until January, 1885, that she found employment as a reporter. Responding to an article in the Pittsburg Dispatch called, What Girls are Good For, Cochrane, just twenty years old, made her way to the editor's office with a challenge. If she could write a good article about divorce - a subject discussed only in hushed tones - she would have a job. She pleased the editor and was hired for five dollars a week.
Choosing the pen name Nellie Bly, after Stephen Foster's ditty, the young reporter conquered such controversial topics as unemployment, the plight of women and children, the plight of the female working poor. She was a reporter, but she was also a crusader. After tromping through Pittsburgh, unescorted, no less, peering in the darkest and dingiest of places for stories, she asked for a bigger assignment.
She begged her editor to allow her to travel to Mexico to report on the skaky political scene. Reluctantly, he agreed. A passage from The Amazing Nellie Bly offers an apt description of her activities: "She went to many out-of--the-way places never before visited by foreigners. She stayed in small villages, each with its own army and saw the soldiers-half-breeds, Indians and old convicts-smoking marijuana cigarettes. She reported this too to Pttsburg."
Several months into her trip, after going a little too far in what she reported about government activities, she received an anonymous warning and headed home. However, she smuggled a suitcase full of notes, so the stories she published after her return about peons, prisons, and corruption made her a more respected and popular reporter.
Still, she wanted more, telling her newspaper friend Erasmus Wilson she wanted to "crash a New York newspaper, fall in love, marry a millionaire, and reform the world." She certainly had high hopes, and she realized most of them.
Bly gained a job at the New York World and the respect of its publisher, Joseph Pullitzer, by pulling another stunt. She feigned insanity and had herself committed to an asylum. After ten days, the World arranged for her discharge and then ran her articles about the horrors of asylum living.
In her most famous feat, she set off on a trip around the world in November, 1889. Her goal was to make the trip in seventy-nine days and beat the fictional character Phileas Fogg in Jule Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days. The World covered her trip at best it could by telegram and kept the readers' interest by publishing a game and plenty of speculation on her actiivites.
She made the trip in record speed in seventy-two days. "At 3:51 on that winter's afternoon, January 25, 1890, a slim, smiling' suntanned girl stepped ouf of a grimy railroad car in Jersey City, New Jersey, waved her Ghillie cap, and an impatient mob went wild at the sight," stated a Washington Post article written in 1977. "One of the most famous journeys in the history of modern man was ending in a fanfare of glory. Nellie Bly had come home.
Bly took the World'sreaders on all kinds of adventures, from an interview with Buffalo Bill to provding a firsthand account of life as a chorus girl. She had accomplished everything she told Erasmus Wilson she would, except for marrying a millionaire, despite the many admirers and opportunities.
In 1895, traveling home from Nebrska after covering a famine brought about by drought and harsh winters and starting a relief effort for farmers, she met Robert Seaman, a seventy-two year old millionaire. They married after several days, and she resigned froma the World, leaving a void that never was filled.
In 1904, Bly was left to manage Seaman's company and fortune after he died. She started the American Steel Barrel Company and mass produced the new container, to which she held the patent. But by 1912, her accountants discovered that she had been robbed by dishonest employees. By the next year, the company was bankrupt. She sailed to Europe for a three-week vacation. The outbreak of World War I' however kept her in Austria until 1919. She joined the staff of the the New York Evening Journal as a correspondent to supplement her income, producing a column that provided an avenue to finding homes for abandoned children.
Nellie Bly died of pneumonia in New York City on January 27, 1922, at the age of fifty-seven. Almost penniless, she was buried in an unmarked grave in the Bronx. In her obituary, the New York Evening Journal said, "She was considered to be the best reporter in America." In 1978, the New York Press Club placed a monument near her grave as a tribute and honor to "one of the first respeced female reporters in tis country." And, on September 28, 1912, Nellie Bly, pseudonym of Elizabeth Jane Cochran Seaman, was elected by the members of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers' Association as a charter member of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Hall of Fame.