Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Julie. Julie Wonders, “Who was Nellie Bly?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Julie!

Elizabeth Jane Cochrane was born in Pennsylvania in 1864. When she was young, there were few jobs for young women. She was not interested in being a nanny or a maid. She did not want to work in a factory.

Cochrane found a career when she read a piece in the “Pittsburgh Dispatch,” a local newspaper. The title of the editorial was “What Girls Are Good For.” In this editorial, the author suggested women did not have a place in the workforce. Cochrane wrote an angry letter in reply. She thought women should have more opportunities to earn money for their families. 

The newspaper editor was impressed with her writing. Cochrane convinced him to give her a job as a reporter. Cochrane wrote under the pen name Nellie Bly—which she took from a popular song. 

Bly went undercover as a girl working in a factory. She learned of unsafe working conditions and poor wages. She investigated the living conditions in the poor areas of Pittsburgh. Bly wrote articles about the problems that she saw. Her work made some people angry. Her editor assigned her to write less serious pieces for the women’s pages in the paper.

Nellie Bly moved to New York City. There were more newspapers in the city. She hoped she could continue writing about serious topics. She applied to several papers. However, they would not hire a female reporter. 

Finally, Bly got a job at the “New York World.” For her first story, Bly pretended to be mentally ill. She wanted to be sent to Blackwell’s Island—a mental asylum. Bly wanted to see how doctors and nurses cared for and treated the patients with mental health struggles.

Nellie Bly lived as a patient at Blackwell’s Island for ten days. She saw how poorly the women were treated. When she left the asylum, Bly wrote six articles about her experiences. The treatment of mentally ill patients surprised people. Her work led to an investigation of the asylum. As a result, the city provided more money, so patients received better care.

This work was a new kind of reporting. Journalists investigated problems. They called attention to the injustices that they saw. They used their stories to encourage people to take action and make changes. These journalists became known as “muckrakers.” Today, this kind of reporting is called “investigative journalism.” 

After the asylum, Bly investigated other problems and wrote exposés about them. She looked at jails, factories, and even the state legislature. If people were being treated unfairly, Bly did her best to uncover the story and write about it for the “New York World.”

One of her most famous adventures was a trip around the world. It took her 72 days to travel all around the globe. She sent articles to the newspaper every day to share her journey with readers.

Nellie Bly’s work made a difference. She wrote stories that made people pay attention to problems in their communities. Bly encouraged them to make changes. Often these changes made life better for the people whose stories Bly told. 

What problems in your school or community would you like people to pay attention to? How can you make a difference?

Standards: CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.3, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.4, CCRA.L.5, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.SL.2, CCRA.W.1, D2.Civ.2, D2.His.3, D2.His.14, AASL.A.I

Wonder What's Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day takes a closer look at a good sniffer!