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  • Writer's pictureMatilda Butler

Who is this woman? I’ll give you four hints. See if you can figure it out.

Here are your hints. See if you can solve the puzzle.

  • She spent ten days in a psychiatric hospital;

  • She traveled around the world in just 72 days;

  • She was the first female to report from the front lines in World War 1;

  • She patented her inventions that improved a manufacturing company she owned;

  • She raised the wages of her workers, upending traditional low pay standards.

Who Was She and Why Does She Matter?

She was the intrepid ELIZABETH COCHRAN(E) SEAMAN.

WHAT? You've Never Heard of Elizabeth Cochran(e) Seaman?

Don't worry. Most people haven't. However, you've probably heard of Nellie Bly--(Elizabeth's nom de plume)--the investigative journalist who continued to aspire and achieve her goals when others would have given up.



"Energy rightly applied can accomplish anything." ~ Nellie Bly

Note on Inspirational Message

For our Amazing Women blogs, we always do extensive research, reflect on their lives, and then extract a message that we hope will inspire you in your life.

But this time, we were struck by Nellie Bly's own quote: "Energy rightly applied can accomplish anything."

Stop for a minute and read that again: "Energy rightly applied can accomplish anything."

It's fun (and our challenge to you) ... take one of your own accomplishments and recall how you were able to achieve it.

It takes energy to get an education, or to earn a promotion, or to learn a musical instrument, or to find new friends, or to save money, or, or, or. But it takes more than just energy. It is easy to just "use up" your energy -- day after day without accomplishing anything

And it is super easy to find yourself exhausted because you are going in circles.

A Little More About Nellie Bly

Before you get too distracted by the swirling ball above that is going in a circle...before you reflect too much on how you use energy, let me tell you a little more about Nellie Bly.

<<But I hope you'll recall Nellie's quote as you go through your day. My thought is that you need to have goals before you can rightly apply your energy. Otherwise, you may not be able to achieve those "big things" you'd like to have or do in your life. Even daily goals elude accomplishing, if I don't apply energy and focus on them. At least that is my experience. What about you?>>

Nellie Bly

Nellie was named Elizabeth Jane when she was born in 1864. Her last name was Cochran, but she later added an "e". That was probably the budding journalist in her who fussed with words.

Where Did the Name Nellie Bly Come From?

Elizabeth with her family, moved to Pittsburgh where she regularly read the Pittsburgh Dispatch. One article infuriated her and prompted a response. The article was "What Girls Are Good For." The message was that girls could have babies and could keep house. By now you can probably guess her reaction.

A First Pseudonym

Using the pseudonym Lonely Orphan Girl, Elizabeth wrote a firey response to the newspaper. And that launched her career. The newspaper's editor, George Madden, liked her articulate, passionate Letter-to-the-Editor and ran an ad asking the author to come meet him.

She showed up and was offered an opportunity to write an article. She did, using the Lonely Orphan Girl pseudonym. That article, which centered on the impact of divorce on women, caused the editor to offer her a full-time job.

Most female newspaper writers at the time used pseudonyms and Elizabeth's editor choose Nelly Bly for her. The name was taken from a song written by Stephen Foster.

Nelly Bly vs Nellie Bly?

But the editor accidentally wrote the name as Nellie and it stuck. Thus Elizabeth Cochrane became Nellie Bly and a brave, adventurous, journalist was launched.

But Great Assignments Were Few and Far Between

Imagine that being a journalist is your passion. You get a job at the Pittsburgh Dispatch and think you are on your way to the kind of life you have dreamed of having. But your editor keeps giving you assignments for the woman’s page. In your mind, you know you can do more. Nellie finally quit and moved to New York.

It took her four months of fruitless efforts. No one wanted to hire a woman. Not to be deterred, she managed to get to the editor of the New York World and was hired as a reporter for the well-known Joseph Pulitzer's newspaper.

Two Significant Adventures

Two adventures launched Nellie Bly's career. Of course, she had to fight for each assignment. First, She talked her editor into letting her get into the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island. She managed to alter her appearance and admit herself. The horrors of neglect and abuse were more than she expected. An arrangement had been with the publisher than after ten days, a lawyer from the newspaper would show up and get her out. She wrote a series of article, later called Ten Days in a Mad-House. Based on her reporting the Department of Public Charities and Corrections (DPCC) was put on trial. As a direct result of Nellie's reporting and the subsequent trial, DPCC increased its budget by about $850,000 in 1887 dollars. That would be the equivalent of $25,867,200 in 2020 dollars. That number alone shows the extent of the problems Nellie uncovered.

Her Second Adventure

Nellie's work had a significant impact on both her readers and institutions. As you can imagine, she had to fight for every plum assignment. Let's consider her words as she tells the story of how her editor reacted to her idea that she could go around the world in 72 days. She wanted to beat the record described in Jules Verne's novel Around the World in 80 Days. Here's the story as she tells it:

"'It is impossible for you to do it,' was the terrible verdict. 'In the first place you are a woman and would need a protector, and even if it were possible for you to travel alone you would need to carry so much baggage that it would detain you in making rapid changes. Besides you speak nothing but English, so there is no use talking about it; no one but a man can do this.'
'Very well,' I said angrily, 'Start the man, and I'll start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him.'"

That settled the issue. The newspaper agreed to pay her way. As to the many trunks of clothing she would need, Nellie responded by taking the following with her:

  • Dress she was wearing

  • Warm overcoat

  • Underwear

  • Small travel bag for her toiletries.

And her money? She put her 200 English pound bank notes, gold, and some American dollars around her neck in a small pouch for safekeeping.

Always a Story Within the Story

It seems that with Nellie Bly there was always a complicating factor. Another newspaper got wind of the adventure and sent out their own female reporter betting that she could get around the world faster than Phileas Fogg and Nellie Bly.

Her name? Elizabeth Bisland. Near the end of the journey, Elizabeth missed one of her connections, had to take a slow boat and arrived back in New York after Nellie.

And Nellie's record? It took her 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes.

A Few More Quotes from Nellie to Inspire You

"Could I pass a week in the insane ward at Blackwell's Island? I said I could and I would. And I did."

Nellie's Inspiration

We hope Nellie's life, action, and quotes will inspire you to find and then do what you want with you life. Yes, you can.



"Energy rightly applied can accomplish anything." ~ Nellie Bly

Missed Our Previous Blogs? Check these out!

Rosie the Riveter's Riveting Story -- Find out the connection to Jackie Kennedy's fashion designer and Rosalind Palmer Walter (major funder of public television).

Wendy the Welder (Rosie the Riveter's Co-Worker)

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May 30, 2022

I enjoyed reading all the inspirational postings and look forward to reading more about amazing women.


May 30, 2022

I guessed it! Nellie's one of my faves. Great piece.

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