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In Brief

Nellie Bly: Pathbreaking Reporter

31 January 2012


Bly portrait on postage stamp (U.S. Postal Service)

She was an undercover investigative reporter when there were few women journalists. Nellie Bly took on the toughest assignments, exposed corruption and crime, and promoted social justice.

Her name was Elizabeth Cochrane (1864–1922), but she assumed the pen name “Nellie Bly” when she began her successful career in journalism. As a young feminist, she wrote a letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch denouncing an anti-feminist writer. The editor was so impressed that he hired her. Bly's investigative stories examined issues such as child labor and unsafe working conditions in factories. When advertisers complained, she went to Mexico and wrote about the poverty and corruption there until she was expelled by the government. In 1887 Bly was in New York, writing exposés of corruption, crime and abuse for the New York World. She once had herself committed to the Blackwell’s Island insane asylum and later wrote about the horrific treatment of its inmates. Bly retired from journalism upon marriage, but after her husband’s death she resumed reporting, this time from Europe during World War I. She died in 1922.