American Journalism Review – Review – Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-11-26-25-amAmerican Journalism Review

Jan-Feb 1995, p. 49

Review of “Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist”



Oddly, Elizabeth Jane Cochran has slipped into the sidebar section of  journalism history, remembered mainly as one of the “stunt reporters” whose gimmicks lured turn-of-the-century readers. While “daredevil” may be what has endured, “reporter” and “feminist” equally apply.

Indeed, she was “the best reporter in  America,” Arthur Brisbane wrote in the New York Journal on her death in 1922.

Bly took her pen name at the Pittsburgh Dispatch because ladies of the day didn’t use their true identities in the papers. She went on to cover wars, labor strife, foreign affairs and boxing matches. She ran her own factory, the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co., where she designed plant machinery, personally held 25 patents, and created a “model of social welfare for her 1,500 employees.” And she devoted her later years and fortune to the plight of unwed mothers and orphans.

Bly’s range was striking.  She provided analytical coverage from Mexico and addressed leading social topics, such as labor issues and sexual politics.

But, true enough, it was the audacious masquerades and posings that cinched her fame. For her first assignment at the New York World she feigned insanity, got herself committed to an asylum and produced a sensational series, “Ten Days in a Mad-House.”

She also posed as, among many others, a patent medicine merchant (to bribe a powerful lobbyist), a charity hospital patient, a chorus girl and even a female job applicant at newspapers (where she was routinely patronized). In her best-remembered stunt, she circled the globe in 72 days, faster than anyone else in  history or literature, beating Phileas Fogg’s “Around the World in Eighty Days.”

Kroeger, a veteran wire service and magazine writer, tells this remarkable story briskly and thoroughly. Her work is both a good read and an important historical rescue mission.


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Upcoming events:  Oct. 19: East Hampton Library. Oct. 22: Author’s Talk & Tea: Woodlawn Conservancy. Oct. 26: Talk Back at the Black Box Theater  for Nancy Smithner’s “Hear Them Roar: The Fight for Women’s Rights.” Nov. 5: Holiday Book Signing at the Beekman Arms in Rhinebeck, NY. Nov. 6: Brentwood Public Library Nov. 7: NYU Center for the Humanities. Nov. 10: Gotham Center for NYC History/CUNY Graduate Center Nov. 16: Book & Bottle: Suffolk County Historical Society & Museum. Nov. 17-18 Researching New York Conference, Albany. Nov. 20: Brookhaven League of Women Voters. March 10: Keynote, Joint Journalism & Communications Historians Conference, New York City.

Parting shots of: the book launch events of Sept. 1 in East HamptonSept. 11 in NYC and Sept. 14 in Cambridge Mass. I’ve got comment and a video (expected soon) of the Sept. 28 event with Angela P. Dodson at the NY Society Library I spoke at the NY Genealogical & Biographical Society Fall Luncheon on Oct. 10 to an audience in which men were very well represented. Oct. 14, I presented on a panel at the AJHA Convention, Little Rock, Ark., on ‘When the Women of Suffrage Got Its Makeover On.” More to come on that.