Pioneering Investigative Journalism: Nellie Bly Changes the Game for Women Journalists

Exposed political corruption in Mexico that kept citizens in poverty. Posed as a sweatshop worker to expose poor working conditions faced by women. Feigned mental illness to report on conditions in an insane asylum. Went on a record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days.

These are some of the countless achievements of investigative journalist pioneer Nellie Bly. She was the first woman journalist to go undercover for the sake of a story, yet hardly anyone knows her name.

Bly started her career off with a bang. At the tender age of 18, she wrote a letter to the Pittsburgh Dispatch denouncing the sexist article “What Girls Are Good For” by Erasmus Wilson. He had called the working woman a “monstrosity,” and Nellie sought to change that. The editor was surprised at her passion, and Bly was hired immediately.

Bly wrote about social justice, most commonly about women. She exposed poor working conditions for women by posing as a sweatshop worker. She reported on the negative consequences of sexist ideologies and emphasized the importance of women’s rights issues. After a year at the paper, Bly was sent down to Mexico as a foreign correspondent and exposed political corruption in the government there.

She eventually left the Pittsburgh Dispatch, which led her to the most influential moments of her career. Bly was hired at the New York World and her first assignment was to expose patient conditions at an asylum on Blackwell’s Island (now known as Roosevelt’s Island).

She believed in getting up close and personal with her work, so she posed as a mental patient and was committed to the facility for ten days. She then wrote a book based on her experiences, highlighting the disturbing facility conditions, including physical and emotional abuse.

Her book Ten Days in a Mad House sparked a full-on investigation of various asylums and hospitals in the state of New York. Bly continued her work by investigating similar institutions, such as jails and foster homes.

Her fame soon catapulted her into the next prominent piece of work in her life. Bly traveled a record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days, emulating Jules Verne’s 1873 novel Around the World in Eighty Days. She used all forms of transportation: ships, horses, rickshaws, sampans, and even burros. Her accounts of the trip were published in the New York World newspaper and she earned incredible fame. In addition to her articles in the newspaper, Bly later also published a book about her experience called Around the World in 72 Days.

There are many influential women in history, particularly journalism history, and Nellie Bly is certainly up there with the best of them. The National Women’s History Museum’s website states, “Bly exposed both corruption and the injustice of poverty, revealing shady lobbyists, the ways in which women prisoners were treated by police, the inadequate medical care given to the poor, and much more. The young reporter always sided with the poor and disenfranchised. Nellie Bly was not the first female reporter but the social issues her stories highlighted helped open the profession to coming generations of women journalists all over.”

She was a true visionary who stopped at nothing to get the best story she could. What more could you want from a journalist?

Sources Editors. “Nellie Bly.” A&E Networks Television, 09 Sept. 2016. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.

“Young and Brave: Girls Changing History.” Young and Brave: Girls Changing History. National Women’s History Museum, n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.

Ruddick, Nicholas. “Nellie Bly, Jules Verne, And The World On The Threshold Of The American Age.” Canadian Review Of American Studies 29.1 (1999): 1. Academic Search Complete. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.

Spencer, Miranda. “No One Said No To Nellie.” Biography 2.4 (1998): 60. Academic Search Complete. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.


Translate »

Comments (0)

Please share your thoughts. Remember to be respectful. We do not allow solicitation for products in our comment sections and those comments will be removed.
All The Arapahoe Pinnacle Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content