“On the wagon sped, and I, as well as my comrades, gave a despairing farewell glance at freedom as we came in sight of the long stone buildings.” – Nellie Bly
That quote came from the beginning of one of the most harrowing experiences a writer can put herself into – undercover reporting in a dangerous setting. And while it marked the start of a two-week living nightmare, it also marked the beginning of a reporting career that would catapult her into the role of the most famous reporter of her day.
Nellie Bly, born on this day in 1864 as Elizabeth Jane Cochran, not only set the standards for how undercover journalism should be done, but she also excited the imagination of the nation and the world with the things she was willing to do, putting her body on the line to “get the story and bring the truth to the world.”
The opening quote above came from her smuggled notes out of the infamous Blackwell’s Island, a New York insane asylum in the 1880s. Her reporting from there blew the lid off the terrible ways the inmates were treated and led to vast reforms. It was just the first of many, many things that this diminutive and imaginative reporter would do, including traveling around the world alone to attempt to break the record of the fictional Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s book Around The World in 80 Days. She did it in just over 72 days.
Bly is a key character in my book And The Wind Whispered, set in 1894. I’ve strived hard to keep the character true to the fortitude and actions of this amazing woman. The Amazing Nellie Bly was her title in those days. It still applies today, and the reporting world can be thankful that she was there to pave the way.
"I have never written a word that did not come from my heart," Nellie said. "And I never shall."