Nellie Bly

(1864–1922) Journalist



Patients in mental institutions suffer around the world in dismal conditions. Such institutes in the United States were led to significant reform after Nellie Bly/Elizabeth Cochran’s famous article described the neglect and physical abuse patients suffered. Cochran built a career on investigative journalism, revealing corruption or abuse of power.

Jenna Bao, Associate Editor

Elizabeth Cochran, better known by her pen name, Nellie Bly (taken from a song by Stephen Foster) was a famous American investigative journalist whose accomplishments include posing as a mental patient and traveling the world in 72 days, pioneering a new form of investigative journalism.

  Cochran was born May 5, 1864, and helped her mother run a boardinghouse after financial difficulties forced her to leave university. Then, in 1880, Cochran’s journalistic career began when a response she sent to a sexist editorial in “The Pittsburgh Dispatch” impressed the paper’s managing editor.

  Bly wrote about women’s rights and sexism, notably posing in a sweatshop to show conditions women faced. However, as the paper limited her options, she moved the “New York World.”

  Her most famous piece had Cochran pose as a mental patient in the Blackwell Island mental institution.Her piece revealed the terrible conditions, neglect, and abuse that occurred at the facility and eventually led to investigations and reform. This included increased funding and greater supervision of the staff.

  Similar pieces included exposing corruption in the state government and conditions inside state prisons, always sharing the stories of the poor or disenfranchised. Cochran also interviewed key females of her time like Susan B. Anthony.

  Cochran is also known for beating the fictional record of Phineas Fogg from Jules Verne’s novel “Around the World in 80 Days” by travelling it in 72.

  After a decade of marriage to an industrialist twice her age and running his company after his death, Cochran herself died at age 57 in 1922 from pneumonia.