Elizabeth Cochran Seaman was born on 5 May 1864. If you don’t recognize the name, she is better known as the journalist Nellie Bly.
Elizabeth grew up in Pennsylvania with a strong desire to work and build a career from a young age. It is admirable how Elizabeth took on such a significant role in her family during a difficult time.
Following the death of her father, she took on the responsibility of supporting her mother and 14 siblings.
Elizabeth had a different opinion about the role of women in society, believing that their contribution should go beyond housework. Consequently, she decided to make a positive impact outside of her home.
Elizabeth wrote a letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch after reading a column titled ‘What Girls Are Good For’.
She subsequently contributed an article to the newspaper.
Impressed by her submission, the editor, George Madden, offered her a permanent job and a pen name, Nellie Bly.
At one time, Nellie Bly wrote on topics that were not commonly addressed, such as women’s issues and rights. For articles targeting women, the typical focus was on fashion, society, and gardening advice.
According to Biography, Elizabeth used to write investigative articles, where she would go undercover to places such as sweatshops, to expose the poor working conditions that women endured.
However, her editors eventually moved her to the women’s pages, and she decided to leave Pittsburgh for greater opportunities in New York.
Life in the big city was initially challenging, and Elizabeth went four months without work. Eventually, she secured a position at the New York World newspaper, and one of her first assignments was to go undercover at a notorious mental hospital.
Few patients of the Blackwell Island Women’s Lunatic Asylum were ever discharged, making it difficult to ascertain the conditions inside.
While there were persistent rumors of staff abuse, it is important to acknowledge that no one has come forward as a witness.
Elizabeth, who had been promised release in 10 days, undertook the most challenging task of her life.
However, Elizabeth could not have anticipated the full extent of the challenges she was about to face.
The hospital was accommodating a number of patients that exceeded its capacity. The meals provided were not up to the expected standards, as they were composed of stale, uncooked bread, spoiled meat, watery broth, and contaminated water. Furthermore, there was a presence of rats throughout the hospital.
Elizabeth pretended to be mentally ill, but the conditions at the hospital were so severe that they could potentially cause a person to develop actual mental health issues.
Additionally, Elizabeth encountered several women who were not mentally ill, but rather impoverished or unable to speak English.
The treatment of patients in the facility was unacceptable, with reports of physical abuse, including beatings and being tied up, as well as instances of patients being doused with ice water instead of being given showers.
Complaints of abuse from patients were ignored by some doctors, and those who did speak up were punished.
Furthermore, some women who required mental health care did not receive the necessary treatment.
It is worth noting that a lawyer arrived to assist Elizabeth 10 days later, as promised.
After Elizabeth’s book ‘Ten Days in a Mad-House’ was published, the government implemented her recommended changes, resulting in significant improvements in the patients’ situation.
Elizabeth gained widespread recognition throughout the country and continued to produce influential articles. Thanks to her elevated profile, her articles played a key role in driving societal change. She also tackled topics such as poverty, politics, and other issues that women had previously not been vocal about.
Elizabeth was a remarkable woman who inspired many young women before her death from a stroke in 1922 at the age of 57.
Two years prior, she witnessed the joy of women finally gaining the right to vote.
Elizabeth accomplished a lot in her short life. It is recommended to share this article to help raise awareness about her life and achievements. Let’s inspire more people to stand up when things aren’t right!