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Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday Mieography


Elizabeth Jane Cochran was born in Pennsylvania, in 1864. Her father, an associate justice, died when she was six years old. Her mother remarried, but sued for divorce, and Elizabeth, nicknamed "Pink" for wearing the color, ended up in court, testifying against her drunken, and violent stepfather. 

     She decided the last name "Cochran" wasn't sophisticated, so she added an "e" on it, to obtain sophistication, when she was a teenager. Her family moved to Pittsburgh, where, one day, she read an article about what girls were good for. It did not sit well with her, and she sent a letter off to the publisher of the newspaper, who was impressed with her writing skills. Female newspaper writers during this time mostly used pen names, thus "Nellie Bly" was born.
     She focused her early work on the plight of working women, having spent much time investigating conditions for female factory workers. However, she was soon shoved into traditional roles, covering fashion, society, and gardening. Dissatisfied with this, she took some initiative, and traveled to Mexico, to be a foreign correspondent. She was twenty-one. She spent six months in Mexico, and later published a book containing all her reports, including an important one about a local journalist whom was imprisoned for criticizing the government. The Mexican authorities threatened to arrest HER for that report, and she left the country. When she got safely back into the United States, she denounced the Mexican government from the safety of her own country.
    When she got home, the Pittsburgh Dispatch assigned her the same stories she'd gone to Mexico to avoid. So, she left for New York City. After four months, with no money, she managed to talk herself into Joseph Pulizer's "New York World", and took an undercover assignment into the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island. To do this, she had to feign insanity. To do this, she took a room in a boardinghouse, refused to go to bed, claiming she was afraid of the other borders, because THEY looked crazy. They, in turn, decided SHE was crazy, and called the police. Taken to a courtroom, she pretended to then have amnesia. The judge concluded she'd been drugged. Several doctors examined her, and all declared her insane. "Positively demented" said one, and recommended she be put somewhere where someone will take care of her. She made all the newspapers. The New York Times wrote of the "mysterious waif with the wild, hunted look in her eyes". (She'd stayed up all night practicing facial expressions). Obviously, she was committed. She got to experience the living conditions first hand, spoiled meat, bread that was just dried dough. The inmates spent their days sitting on hard, cold benches, the bathwater was cold, and the nurses, rude and abusive. They frequently beat the patients.
She as released from the Asylum after ten days, at The World's request. Her report caused quite a sensation, and brought her much fame. It was also made into a book, "Ten days in a Mad-House." It launched a grand jury investigation, with her assistance. May changes were made, and the budget for the Department of Public Charities and Corrections was increased.
     Next, she decided she would like to attempt to go around the world in Eighty Days, like the Jules Verne book. (after an insane asylum, she probably needed a vacation). It took her Seventy two days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds to cover 24,889 miles. At the time, it was a world record. A few months later, however, someone did it in 67 days.
     She married a millionaire, Robert Seaman, who was 42 years her junior when she married him. She retired from journalism, and became the president of Clad Manufacturing Company, which made steel containers. She invented, and patented the steel barrel that is the model for the 55 gallon drums used to house oil to this day. Her husband died, and mismanagement of funds bankrupted her. She went back to reporting, and covered women's suffrage events, and WW I.
     Nellie died of pneumonia in 1922, at the age of 57.

6 comments:

sybil law said...

Wow.
She did a lot, but damn.
Kind of depressing!

Daryl said...

Amazing woman .. died very young but I guess she also lived an extremely full life

Bubblewench said...

WOW! Very interesting.

K said...

That was quite a life.

I feel like I need to get my butt into gear and get going.

Mary said...

That's a lot to pack into 57 years.

Dianne said...

I learned about Nellie when I was 11 years old. An amusement park opened in my neighborhood in Brooklyn named for her - it's still there

I remember all the kids saying it was named for the owner's mother but I actually looked it up - and this was before Google! ;)

She was quite a woman

another great and interesting post