Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist

Fresh Air (NPR) Best Book of the Year – 1994

Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist is the first and only fully documented biography of Bly and integrates a wealth of previously unknown information with a reporter’s zeal for the hard fact. It is the first attempt to give us this legendary figure in all her complexity: the most famous woman journalist of her day, an extraordinary American industrialist, and a compelling humanitarian. Hers is not only an inspiring personal tale, but the story of an exemplar of an age when American women were vigorously asserting their right–indeed, their need–to shape history itself.

Brooke Kroeger 

It was baffling that a life of as much purpose and accomplishment as Nellie Bly’s, still daunting, even by the contemporary standard, did not incite the passions of any number of serious authors over the years. Even if none of the more commercially successful biographers sensed the essential universality of Bly’s dynamic story, at least it should have snared the imagination of a feminist scholar or two, a doctoral candidate perhaps. This book was written to fill that void. Since its publication, Bly at last has gotten her due. She has been admitted to the Women’s Hall of Fame and has her own U.S. postage stamp among four that honor the women of American journalism. She has been featured in a PBS documentary for The American Experience and been the subject of a Newspapers In Education series.

Nellie Bly, Kroeger’s first book, was published in 1994. A second biography, Fannie: The Talent for Success of Writer Fannie Hurst, was published in 1999. Her third book (2003) is entitled Passing: When People Can’t Be Who They Are. Undercover Reporting: The Truth About Deception came out in 2012 and The Suffragents in 2017.

From Chapter Four, “The World”:

“Bly would assay the universe through a special lens with her own peculiar tint, and the reader, seeing her name in the headline, knew he or she would be in for an excruciatingly detailed account of whatever she had encountered. How she approached the subject and how she felt about anything that came into her mind at the time, even the most extraneous details, were as essential to the telling as why she had reported the story in the first place. Unlike her unwitting heirs of the 1960s and 1970s, when the phrase New Journalism would come around again, it was not her wit or sarcasm or counter-culture stream-of-consciousness that delivered a ripe audience. It was her compassion and social conscience, buttressed by a disarming bluntness. There was no mind-splitting intellectual insight or noteworthy literary finesse. Bly simply produced, week after week, an uninhibited display of her delight in being female and fearless and her joy in having such an attention-getting place to strut her stuff. It was “gonzo” journalism cloaked in Victoriana. Even her detractors found her too astounding to ignore. . . .”


“Kroeger has pieced together a convincing and scrupulous picture of an extraordinary, courageous, sometimes disagreeable woman of her times.”

“Kroeger’s painstaking and diligent research has begun to tell the real story of Nellie Bly . . . The author has collected and compiled the details in a narrative that is witty, precise, amazing, and entertaining to read.