Beautiful New York

A Celebration of the City

The Top 100 Greatest New Yorkers — #13

Nellie Bly (1864 – 1922)


Elizabeth Cochran, better known by her pen name Nellie Bly, was the mother of investigative journalism. As a teenager, she was provoked into writing her first newspaper article by reading a horribly sexist column called What Girls Are Good For. Her rebuttal was published and she was hired by the local newspaper shortly afterwards. Having made her name in the provincial papers during the Golden Age of Journalism, she set her sights on New York. Asking every editor on Newspaper Row whether women had a future in journalism, she was told “no” by each of them. Publicly shaming them by publishing her findings in her local press, she was offered a job the next day by Joseph Pulitzer at the New York World. Her legendary first assignment was to masquerade as mentally ill and report from the inside of the insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island. The subsequent book 10 Days in a Madhouse burst the door wide open on practices in the field of mental health. She proceeded to go undercover many more times, writing about the treatment of female prisoners by male guards, interviewing Emma Goldman, and traveling around the world in 72 days (beating Jules Verne’s fictitious record by 10%).


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