Nellie Bly:: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist
by Brooke Kroeger (Author)
Now in paperback–the acclaimed biography of Nellie Bly, the “thrilling account of a trailblazer” (Pat Morrison, Los Angeles Times Book Review). “Kroeger’s biography of Nellie Bly moves at almost as fast a pace as did Bly’s remarkable life.”–Mindy Spatt, San Francisco Chronicle. Photos & illustrations.
About the Author
I’m a journalist, a professor of journalism at NYU, and the author of five books, the most recent of which is The Suffragents: How Women Used Men to Get the Vote (suffragents.com or facebook.com/thesuffragents.) My website with full details is brookekroeger.com.
- Hardcover: 631 pages
- Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (March 1, 1994)
From Publishers Weekly
This is the definitive work on the reporter who traveled around the world in 72 days in 1889-1890 and was one of the pioneer women journalists. Nellie Bly started her career in Pittsburgh, at age 21, in 1885. She then moved to New York City in 1887 and wrote for the World until 1895, with one three-year hiatus. In 1895 she married a wealthy 70-year-old entrepreneur, Robert Seaman, and proved herself an astute business executive–except that she trusted her financial associates, who embezzled more than a million dollars and bankrupted her firm, which manufactured steel barrels. She returned to journalism in 1912 and covered WW I on the Eastern front from 1914 until 1919 as the only American woman reporter. Back in Manhattan she worked at the Evening Journal as a sort of Miss Lonelyhearts and amateur social worker until her death in 1922. Kroeger, a former reporter and editor for UPI, has done a prodigious amount of research for this compelling, if somewhat overlong biography. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Nellie Bly (1864-1922) perfected the art of “stunt” journalism in the late 1800s, paving the way for both women journalists and the development of investigative reporting. For this major new biography, Kroeger used her own investigative journalism skills to uncover a wide range of previously unknown materials relating to Bly’s life. Kroeger argues that the lack of accessible documents has contributed to scholarly neglect and misinformation about Bly, a condition she has remedied in this book. Bly, born Elizabeth Jane Cochran, began her journalism career in Pittsburgh, moving to New York in 1887. For her first article in Joseph Pulitzer’s The New York World , she feigned insanity, getting herself committed to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum. Her expose rocked the city, led to reforms, and made Bly famous. Kroeger goes beyond the well-known stories about Bly, documenting her reporting career and her life as an industrialist. This is a remarkable biography of an extraordinary woman that should be added to most library collections.
– Judy Solberg, Univ. of Maryland Libs., College Park
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Reporter and editor Kroeger was amazed to discover that not a single comprehensive biography had ever been written about the famous “girl” reporter Nellie Bly (1864-1922). Bly was renowned for her pluck and daring, her humanitarianism, and her struggles as one of the first woman industrialists. Unfortunately, Bly kept no journals and wrote few letters, but Kroeger has managed to fashion a compelling and detailed portrait based on Bly’s newspaper work and the astonishing number of court documents her litigious activities generated. Bly, who was born Elizabeth Jane Cochran, vowed early on to be self-sufficient, but her entry into journalism was pure serendipity. She had written a scathing letter to the editor after reading a rabidly misogynist column in a Pittsburgh paper. Her verve caught the editor’s attention, and soon “Nellie Bly” was front-page copy as she became one of the first “stunt” reporters to go under cover for a story when she feigned insanity and infiltrated a state-run asylum. Her next escapade was to make it around the world in less time than the hero of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. Over the years, her subjects veered from the fluff of the “woman’s page” to genuine news, such as labor strikes and World War I. Kroeger admits that Bly wasn’t much of a writer, but she was fearless and resilient and possessed an instinct for drama and an unerring sense of justice. Kudos to Kroeger for resurrecting the irrepressible Bly and adding a star to the bright firmament of nineteenth-century American women. Donna Seaman
From Kirkus Reviews
A meticulously researched, consistently entertaining biography of the legendary turn-of-the-century journalist whose true adventures far outstripped the boundaries of myth. For this first full-scale treatment of Bly, former United Press International reporter Kroeger reaches through a web of half- truths (many courtesy of the subject herself) and scanty facts to uncover the complex path of “a life not so much lived as waged.” Born near Pittsburgh in 1864, Elizabeth Jane Cochran began her career with an extraordinary stroke of luck–the editor of The Pittsburgh Dispatch, fascinated by her spirited letter rebuking a columnist who urged women to stay at home, gave the untrained 20- year-old a position and, in the fashion of the day, a catchy life- long pseudonym. But it was her own initiative that secured lasting fame. Deciding to scale the walls of newspaper capital New York, with her sights set on Joseph Pulitzer’s splashy The World, Bly quickly became a leading investigative reporter in a business still largely closed to women. National celebrity came with an effort to better Jules Verne’s fictional Phileas Fogg by going around the world in 75 days. Her relentlessly self-referential but charming and uninhibited style made Bly, in Kroeger’s estimation, perhaps the first “gonzo” journalist. Reborn as an enlightened manufacturer after a curious elopement with a millionaire industrialist 40 years her senior, Bly mastered technology sufficiently to pick up 25 patents in her own name. Financial ruin drew the now-widowed Bly to Austria to report from the front lines of WW I, and a final foray into New York journalism, just prior to her death at 57, cast Bly as a passionate advocate for downtrodden women and children. While skillfully conveying the outlines of an astounding life, Kroeger, hampered by a lack of intimate detail, never manages to make Bly a fully three-dimensional character- -although, as she amply demonstrates, four or five dimensions would seem more appropriate. Inspiring reading for those searching out a feminist role model–or just a breathless ride through an incredible life. (16 pages of b&w photographs–not seen) — Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
Worthy tribute to a remarkable woman
Nellie Bly (real name Elizabeth Jane Seaman nee Cochran) was a phenomenon of late 19th century, early 20th century American journalism. She was not the first female reporter and lived long enough to be considered quaint and outdated by the new breed of women that inhabited the newsrooms of the 1920s. Yet her influence on her profession cannot be denied.
Bly — the name was chosen for her by an anonymous individual in the newsroom of the Pittsburgh Dispatch when the editor asked for ideas for her pen name (no one wrote under their own name in those days) — mixed a feisty daring with the cottish use of her feminine charms to twist the overwhelmingly male interview subjects around her little finger and get the stories she wanted.
She was an aggressive self-promoter, filling her work with her own opinions and attitudes — and in an era when newspaper articles were measured in columns rather than inches and centimetres, wrote freely and at enormous length.
She is mostly remembered for the stories in the early part of her career when she was queen of the ‘stunt girls’ — reporters sent out by their editors to undertake acts of daring that more often than not made news simply because they performed by young women.
However, her assignment for the New York World when she went undercover as the inmate of a women’s lunatic asylum, exposing brutality and neglect, did lead to much-needed reforms.
Perhaps her best known and loved ‘stunt’ was to circle the earth in less time than the then popular work of fiction Around the World in Eighty Days. Travelling by steamer and train, and beating off a challenge from a rival, she performed the feat in 72 days. It established her as the foremost female journalist of her day, able to command unheard of salaries for women and more or less decide which stories she covered.
However, it was all downhill from there. She married a man more than 40 years her senior, went into business and spent most of the rest of her life in a succession of law suits as she tried to run her husband’s company after his death.
She returned to journalism as a war correspondent during World War I, became a blatant apologist for the Austro-Hungarian Empire and ended up back in New York writing a matronly ‘agony aunt’ column for her old newspaper until her death from pneumonia, aged 57, in 1922.
There have been books, films and plays about Bly, but Brooke Kroeger’s simply named Nellie Bly will surely rate as the definitive work. Decades in the making, Kroeger has spared no effort in researching libraries, newspaper files, births and deaths certificates, family histories and the memories of people who knew Bly, or knew people who did. It is very much a life’s work and a worthy tribute to a remarkable woman.
Very factual narrative
A deeply researched and very competently written biography of the amazing Nellie Bly, undercover journalist, businesswoman and agony aunt, who fitted more into her energetically lived life than many of us will ever do.There is necessarily a great deal about the various newspapers Nellie worked for, and much detail about the litigation Nellie perforce entered into in connection with fraud committed at her company. Less is available, clearly, about the kind of person Nellie herself was, although of course her words in print and actions in life convey a certain amount. More of an attempt at a psychological understanding of Nellie might have been welcome, and perhaps more of a novelistic (but always fact-based) approach rather than the author’s very documentarian method. But there’s a great deal to discover in this book: not only Nellie’s life, but also historical events at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, relations between the sexes, attitudes to women and women working, the state of child welfare. Recommended.