Pioneer Woman in Journalism: Nellie Bly Part 2

About pioneer woman in journalism Nellie Bly, her biography and place in history, examples of her stories and scoops.

NELLIE BLY (1867-1922). Pioneer newspaperwoman.

Once she threw herself off a Hudson River ferry to test the efficiency of its rescue crew. Another time she posed as the wife of a patent medicine manufacturer and obtained the services of Albany's chief briber to kill a bill that would ruin her husband's business. She missed their final payoff meeting to hurry back to New York and write the story that would lead to the man's indictment.

The World protected Nellie's identity so that she could pursue her stories anonymously. New York speculated wildly on the person or persons behind the by-line. Many believed Nellie Bly to be a team of brilliant male reporters. It was more plausible than the truth. The real Nellie, deceptively demure and diminutive with sad gray eyes, was not yet 22.

She now was ready for the capstone of her career. In response to the popularity of Jules Verne's novel, Around the World in Eighty Days, Nellie proposed to outdo the fictional Phileas Fogg and circumnavigate the globe in less than 80 days. Pulitzer liked the idea, but wanted to send a man. "If you do," she warned, "I'll leave at the same time and race against him." Pulitzer relented.

Fitted out in Plaid ulster and cape, wearing a 2-peaked Sherlock Holmes cap, and clutching a leather gripsack with all her travel needs, she set out from New York on November 14, 1889. She crossed the Atlantic and stopped to interview Verne in France. From there her itinerary included the Suez, Ismailia, Calcutta, Singapore, Yokohama, then across the Pacific to San Francisco and a breakneck race across the continent. The readers of the World eagerly followed her course. Pulitzer sponsored a lottery based on her time of arrival.

When she roared into Jersey City, factory whistles blew, cannons roared, flags flew, and a massive parade started down Broadway. Nell appeared to a crowd of jubilant New Yorkers with a monkey she had acquired in Hong Kong perched on her shoulder. Her total elapsed time: 72 days, 6 hours, 10 minutes, and 11 seconds.

Although she continued to write tearjerkers about poor working girls and abandoned children, the remainder of her career was sheer anti-climax. At 28, she married a 72-year-old millionaire hardware manufacturer. When he died, she tried to run the business but ended up in bankruptcy court complaining that unscrupulous employees had bilked the company out of more than $2 million.

She was in Europe at the outbreak of W. W. I. For a time she supplied International News Service with dispatches from the Austrian Front. After the war she was hired by the New York Journal, but her style of writing was then sadly out of date.

She died of pneumonia at 55. Her obituaries, small and little noticed, played on all the inside pages.

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