Nellie Bly Facts

Michael Bryan

Michael Bryan

Modified: 06 Jun 2022

nellie bly facts

Throughout their career, investigative journalists face many dangers. For a job that requires them to be in the frontlines, journalists always get caught in all sorts of action. Rewind that to 19th century America, and you can only imagine how unlikely it was for a woman to succeed in this field. However, Nellie Bly stood out as a woman of her craft. Despite living in a time where women had less opportunities, Bly took a leap of faith and pursued her passion. Find out more about one of history’s unknown yet iconic people with these Nellie Bly facts.

  1. Nellie Bly was born on May 5, 1864 in Pittsburgh, Pennysylvania.
  2. Nellie Bly had 14 siblings (4 full-blooded siblings and 10 half-siblings).
  3. Bly travelled the world for 72 days straight.
  4. In 1879, Nellie enrolled at Indiana Normal School for one term, however, she had no choice but to stop since they don’t have money.
  5. Nellie Bly died due to pneumonia on January 27, 1922, at age 57, in New York.
  1. Nellie Bly was a writer, journalist, and inventor.
  2. Her real name is Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman.
  3. Her nickname was “Pinky.”
  4. Nellie was one of the pioneers in her field, establishing a new breed of investigative journalism.
  5. Nellie Bly was born in Cochran’s Mills, Pennsylvania, United States.
  6. Nellie Bly is best-known for traveling around the world in 72 days.
  7. Nellie Bly’s mother was Mary Jane Cochran.
  8. Nellie Bly’s father was Michael Cochran.
  9. She married Robert Livingston Seaman, an American industrialist.
  10. Throughout Nellie’s lifetime, she fought for women’s rights.
  1. Nellie Bly used to wear pink dresses regularly.
  2. She was noticeably smart ever since she was a young girl.
  3. Nellie enjoyed playing with her older brothers at an early age.
  4. Nellie had several patents for her inventions such as an innovative milk can and garbage bin.
  5. Her parents named her after Stephen Foster’s song, Nelly Bly.
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Nellie Bly Facts Infographics

Nellie Bly facts

Nellie Bly has been vocal about her views from an early age.

She was just 16 years old when she expressed her disappointment towards a Pittsburgh publication. Through a letter, Bly criticized an article that described women as worthless and weak. As an advocate of women‘s rights, Bly wrote a harshly-worded letter to the newspaper editor.

Nellie Bly went undercover for the publication New York World.

In 1887 , Bly transferred to New York to become an associate of the daily newspaper New York World. As part of an assignment, Bly went undercover at a women’s psychiatric hospital for 10 days to report the practices inside. Today, you can watch the experience through the Netflix special, 10 Days In A Madhouse. How’s that for suspenseful Nellie Bly facts?

She had a 42-year age gap with her husband.

Before their marriage, Robert Seaman established himself as a billionaire through his wholesale grocery business. Aside from this, he also invested in the Iron Clad Manufacturing Company which manufactured cans for shipping milk. In 1985, 31 year-old Nellie Bly married the 73 year-old Robert Seaman. As her husband’s health declined, Bly succeeded Seamans as the head of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co.

She pretended to be insane to gain access to the Women's Lunatic Asylum.

In 1887, Bly accepted the task of investigating cases of brutality and neglect at a women’s asylum on Blackwell’s Island. In order to gain access to the institution, Bly checked herself into a boarding house where she refused to sleep and started to accuse the other women of being insane. Intentionally, Nellie claimed to have amnesia, which led to doctors sending her to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum.

new york city mental hospital
Photo on Public Domain

Bly had to endure inhumane practices inside the psychiatric hospital.

True to the reports, the Women’s Asylum was not what it seemed. Instead of a clean professional facility, Bly witnessed a decrepit building full of rats. In terms of the staff, the asylum had abusive nurses who would subject patients to ice-cold baths. Some would also force patients to sit on chairs for several hours, not allowing them to do anything else. Moreover, the asylum would serve patients rotten food and dirty water.

Nellie was the first woman to witness an execution in the 1900s.

In January 1920, Nellie Bly witnessed the execution of Gordon Fawcett Hamby via electric chair at Sing Sing prison. Found guilty after murdering a couple of bank officials during a robbery in New York, the state charged Hamby with the death penalty. After witnessing this event, Bly decided that capital punishment was not a solution. In fact, even wrote of her hopes to abolish the death penalty altogether.

Nellie Bly travelled the world to beat a fictional character's world record.

In 1888, the 24-year-old Nellie Bly challenged herself to go around the world in less than 80 days. More than anything, Bly set this goal to beat the fictional Phileas Fogg from the Jules Verne novel, Around the World in Eighty Days. On November 14th, 1889, Bly boarded a ship from New Jersey to England. From there, she traveled to France, Yemen, Ceylon, Singapore, Japan, then back to the other side of the United States in San Francisco.

Source: Pixabay

Her husband died on March 11th, 1904.

When her husband Robert Seaman died on March 11, 1904, the 40-year-old Nellie took over Iron Clad Manufacturing. During her time as its head, she invented the stacking garbage can. There have also been rumors that she invented the industrial oil drum, but the patent lists someone else as its creator. Sadly, her company eventually went bankrupt due to negligence and embezzling by a factory manager.

She was the first woman to report the Eastern Front of World War I.

Following the death of her husband and Iron Clad Manufacturing’s business troubles, Nellie Bly moved to Austria after 10 years. In her time there, Bly saw the opportunity to report on the Great War from the front lines, making her the first woman to cover the Eastern Front of World War I.

Nearly 100 years after her death, she continued to receive honors and awards.

By 1998, Nellie Bly became part of the National Women’s Hall of Fame as well as being honored in 2002 with a U.S. postage stamp that features “Women in Journalism.” Moreover, Bly had an amusement park named after her in Brooklyn, New York City. As a nod to her life’s adventures, the Nellie Bly Amusement Park follows the theme, Around the World in Eighty Days.