In 1886, a young woman was thrown into an insane asylum in New York City for a period of 10 days. Two days after she was released, she quickly gained nationwide renown. Her name was Elizabeth Cochrane, but she was more widely known by her nom de plume, Nellie Bly.
Bly had feigned insanity in order to be thrown into the infamous Blackwell Island asylum so she would be able to investigate the actual conditions under which mentally ill patients were forced to live. She uncovered unlivable quarters and hostile treatment of women who were essentially prisoners. The writer eventually published six installments of her story, “Ten Days in a Mad-house,” in the New York World after her release. The story exploded and led to the impaneling of a grand jury to investigate the reported abuses of the asylums in New York and, as a result, conditions improved dramatically for patients.
Bly’s incredible hands-on work and dedication to uncover the real treatment of the mentally ill gave birth to the practice of investigative journalism. In her later years she would circumnavigate the globe in a then-record time (beating Jules Verne’s 80 days by more than a week), and she was a prominent voice in the women’s suffrage movement of the early 20th century.
She helped pave the way for female journalists to break the glass ceiling and did amazing work for the betterment of society until her death in 1922 at age 57.
Zach Bethel is a senior at Riverside Christian School.