She was a powerful advocate for woman's rights and social reform and a pioneer in the field of investigative reporting and stunt journalism. She is practically the Platonic Ideal of the Gutsy Girl Reporter. She was born Elizabeth Jane Cochran, but she is better known by her pen name, Nellie Bly.
She was born to a prominent family in Cochran's Mills, Pennsylvania in 1864, but her family lost much of it's money when her father died. As a child, her mother liked dressing her in pink, and "Pink" became her nickname. At the age of eighteen, she wrote a letter to the Pittsburgh Dispatch, rebutting a sexist column about the "woman's sphere" that so impressed the editor that she was offered a job. Since respectable women didn't write for newspapers, she took the pen name "Nellie Bly" after the title of a song by Stephen Foster.
She tackled the job with relish, investigating working conditions for women at sweatshops. She did her job so well, that the paper risked losing advertising from some of the firms she exposed, and so she was assigned more lady-like stories such as fashion and garden parties. Not willing to settle for tame reporting, she took a leave of absence and traveled to Mexico and spent the next six months filing stories exposing poverty and corruption south of the border.
From there she went to New York City and eventually persuaded Joseph Pulitzer to hire her for the New York World. For her first assignment, she arranged to have herself committed to a woman's mental institution on Blackwell's Island. Her exposé on conditions prompted a grand jury investigation and reforms at the asylum.
She did several other stories in which she went undercover to expose poor conditions for women. Her most famous stunt, however, came when she took a trip around the world, imitating the hero of Jules Verne's book Around the World in Eighty Days. She left Hoboken, New Jersey on November 14, 1889, and completed her journey exactly 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds later, beating Phileas Fogg's record by better than a week. Her journey included a side trip to Amiens, France, where she interviewed Verne himself.
In 1894, she married a millionaire industrialist named Robert Seaman, who was some forty years her senior. After his death in 1905, she took over his firm, The Iron Clad Manufacturing Company, a company making steel containers and barrels. She instituted many reforms at the firm, including elimination of piecework, and establishing a library and recreational facilities for employees. Unfortunately, she was unskilled in money management and accounting, and the company went bankrupt.
She traveled to Europe in 1914, and found herself behind the lines when World War I broke out. Naturally, she began reporting from the front lines. She remained in Europe until 1919, when she heard news of her mother's failing health and returned home. She returned to journalism, reporting for the New York Evening Journal.
She died of pneumonia on January 27, 1922 at the age of 57; a short, but incredibly eventful life.
Game and Story Use
- In a historical or time travel campaign, the players might encounter Nellie Bly while she is working undercover on one of her exposés
- The PC's encounter some thugs threatening a young women outside a factory. It turns out that the girl is Nellie Bly, who has taken a job at the company to investigate its working conditions. The company has discovered that she's a reporter and wants to silence her; can the PC's keep her alive long enough to file her story?
- Another place the PC's might meet Nellie is on her trip around the world. Her nose for news keeps getting in the way of her need to keep on schedule! Can the PC's help her?
- She might also appear as a war correspondent in a campaign set during World War I.
- Nellie's exploits might serve as a model for a Victorian Era journalist character.