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5 lesser known facts about Nellie Bly for #InternationalWomensDay

I’m on a mission to let the world know that there was so much more to Nellie Bly than her asylum expose and her round the world adventure – amazing as those things were!

So in honour of International Women’s Day, here are 5 facts/stories about the wonderful Nellie that you may not know already. If you knew them all, or knew none of them, I’d love to hear from you.

1. She famously interviewed Susan B. Anthony

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Susan B. Anthony

In February 1896, as the women’s suffrage movement blossomed in America, Nellie Bly interviewed Susan B. Anthony, eliciting some of the most personal answers to questions ever given by Anthony, then in her seventies. Here’s an exchange from Nellie’s report in The World:

“Were you ever in love?”

“In love?” she laughed merrily. “Bless you, Nellie, I’ve been in love a thousand times!”

“Really?” I gasped, taken aback by this startling confession.

“Yes, really!…. When I was young, if a girl married poor she became a housekeeper and a drudge. If she married wealth, she became a pet and a doll. Just think, had I married at 20, I would have been either a drudge or a doll for 55 years. Think of it!”

2. She was the first woman to witness an execution in 21 years

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Sing Sing 1915

In January 1920, Nellie Bly reported on the execution by electrocution of Gordon Fawcett Hamby at Sing Sing prison.

Hamby, who had confessed to killing two bank officials during a robbery in Brooklyn, communicated with Nellie Bly in the run up to his death, and even sent her his Ouija board as, “a slight remembrance (all I have at this time) for your infinite kindness and friendship”.

Nellie was vehemently anti-capital punishment, writing, “I shall never cease to work to abolish this premeditated killing.”

3. She fundraised for Austrian widows and orphans during WWI

Wehrmann_in_Eisen_9931
The Wehrmann in Eisen

During World War I, Nellie Bly travelled to Austria to report for the New York Journal, but she became very engaged in supporting the Austrian cause and in particular widows and orphans. Throwing herself into war relief efforts in Vienna, she asked her readers back home in America to send quarters to her fund. Contributors would be rewarded by having their name inscribed in a gold book and a nail driven into a wooden statue in their honour. The Wehrmann in Eisen, (Iron Man for Austria) was one of many popular fundraising symbols in Austria made in this way, and in May 1916, Bly reported to her readers in the Journal that she had personally hammered one nail into the Wehrmann statue, for every person who had sent her a donation.

4. She always faced stiff competition from other aspiring women journalists

Elizabeth_Bisland_circa1891
Elizabeth Bisland

Famous as she undoubtedly was in her hey-day, Nellie Bly always had competition to deal with. Although one of the first female journalists, she wasn’t the first by any means. Even at The Pittsburg Dispatch, where her career began, there was already a well respected female journalist, Elizabeth Wilkinson Wade, who wrote under the pseudonym Bessie Brambles. At The World in 1887, no sooner had Bly had her hard-won success with her asylum expose, than another female journalist, Fannie Merrill, was vying for a slot in the Sunday edition with a similar style of reports to Nellie’s. Merrill’s article, Skilful Cigarette Girls came out on November 20th 1887, only a month after Nellie’s reports from the asylum. When she set of around the world in 1889, Nellie Bly had no idea that another woman journalist was running against her. Elizabeth Bisland set off heading west on a train from New York on the same day that Nellie sailed east from the city on a steamship and the two women circumnavigated the globe in the opposite direction. And at one point in the 1890’s, Nellie even faced competition from a conglomerate of female journalists, all publishing under the shared pseudonym, Meg Merillies.

5. She ran an informal adoption agency from a New York Hotel

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The Sun, Dec 19th, 1919

When she returned to New York journalism after World War I, Nellie Bly wrote an opinion column in The Journal and publicly offered to help find homes for orphaned children.

In December 1919, a baby was found at Grand Central Station with a note that read – “To Somebody – for the love of Mike, take this kid… give him to Nellie Bly… he is seven months old and as healthy as they make them.”

The baby was taken to Bellevue Hospital where Nellie Bly rushed to visit him. But this was a story with several twists and turns. The baby, dubbed Love o’ Mike by the newspapers, was first claimed by the wrong family, the Wenzes, whose son had been kidnapped a few months earlier. When that story was publicized by Nellie Bly, the real mother came forward to reclaim her son, saying she’d hoped Nellie Bly would find him a better home than his family could offer, but that the Wentzes were barely any better off than she was.


For more about Love o’ Mike and Nellie Bly’s story,  take a look at The Girl Puzzle, available to pre-order now from Crooked Cat books. (publication May 5th, 2019)

3d girl puzzle coverHer published story is well known. But did she tell the whole truth about her ten days in the madhouse?

Down to her last dime and offered the chance of a job of a lifetime at The New York World, twenty-three-year old Elizabeth Cochrane agrees to get herself admitted to Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum and report on conditions from the inside. But what happened to her poor friend, Tilly Mayard? Was there more to her high praise of Dr Frank Ingram than everyone knew?

Thirty years later, Elizabeth, known as Nellie Bly, is no longer a celebrated trailblazer and the toast of Newspaper Row. Instead, she lives in a suite in the Hotel McAlpin, writes a column for The New York Journal and runs an informal adoption agency for the city’s orphans.

Beatrice Alexander is her secretary, fascinated by Miss Bly and her causes and crusades. Asked to type up a manuscript revisiting her employer’s experiences in the asylum in 1887, Beatrice believes she’s been given the key to understanding one of the most innovative and daring figures of the age.

#otd 1913 Nellie Bly at the Washington DC Suffrage Rally

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If you know about Nellie Bly at all, you most likely know that she went round the world by herself in 72 days in 1889/90, or that she got her first break into New York newspapers by feigning madness and getting herself committed to Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum in 1887.

But there was a lot more to Nellie Bly than that. Here’s a perfect example: Nellie reporting for the New York Evening Journal on the March 3rd Suffrage March in Washington D.C. in 1913. There are some great little videos about it on YouTube. Here’s an example:

And here’s Nellie’s thoughts on the event, taken from Brooke Kroeger’s biography, Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist.

“Can you imagine it? Ten thousand women in line? They say that was the number by actual count… Picture if you can an endless chain of butterflies, divided into sections according to color fluttering along and it will give a little impression of the parade which made history… I was never so proud of women; I never was so impressed by their ability; I never so realized their determination and sincerity. I am glad I am one.”

Inez_Milholland_1913The suffrage march was led by this woman, Inez Milholland, a lawyer, feminist and pacifist who probably deserves a novel of her own. She’s definitely someone worth celebrating.

For more, read:

When the suffrage movement got its makeover on

http://suffrageandthemedia.org/source/nellie-bly-for-the-new-york-evening-journal-at-the-1913-washington-dc-suffrage-rally/

#otd 1885, Nellie Bly’s first byline

“Mad Marriages” was the title of Elizabeth Cochrane’s second article for The Pittsburg Dispatch. Marriage and divorce was a topic Elizabeth had strong views on, and in her article she weighed in on divorce law reform as well as her concern that both parties to a marriage really knew each other, warts and all.

Nellie Bly

Her own family history – her father died when she was six and her mother remarried but then divorced in 1879 – was clearly at the forefront of her mind as she wrote. So, most likely, was her brother Albert with whom she would have a contentious relationship throughout her life. The article was opinionated, strident and intended to provoke debate. It was also published under a new byline.

Nelly Bly songGeorge Madden, recognising Elizabeth’s great potential, didn’t want to publish “Mad Marriages” with the Lonely Orphan byline. She needed a name, but as was customary at the time, it couldn’t be her own.

220px-Stephen_FosterHe called into the newsroom for suggestions and, from among the replies, picked out Nelly Bly. The name came from a popular song, written in 1850 by Stephen Foster, known as ‘the father of American music’, and a Pittsburgh native.

Madden misspelled Nelly, as Nellie and Nellie Bly was born.

 

#otd 1885 – The Girl Puzzle is published

nellie undatedOn January 25th, 1885, The Pittsburg Dispatch published its first article by a new employee. In the week leading up to this date, a young woman called Elizabeth Cochrane had answered George Madden and Erasmus Wilson’s advertisement, seeking the author of a letter they’d received, signed only by a ‘Lonely Orphan Girl.’

Much later, both Wilson and Nellie Bly would reflect on this first meeting. Wilson recalled the young woman arriving, breathless from climbing the stairs. She appeared to him to be shy, but when she smiled her whole face brightened and he remembered she had beautiful teeth. For her part, Nellie was surprised by both Wilson and Madden. Wilson, author of the provoking Q.O. column whose views on a ‘women’s sphere’ had enraged her so much she’d put pen to paper, was not at all the cross old man of her imagination. Instead he was ‘a great big good-natured fellow who wouldn’t even kill the nasty roaches that crawled over his desk.’ maddenAnd Madden, the editor, was a ‘mild-mannered, pleasant-faced boy,’ not at all the fierce, bushy-bearded man she’d imagined him to be.

Best of all, Madden didn’t simply want to publish the girl’s letter. He wanted more of her views and opinions. The result? Her first published article, The Girl Puzzle.

The article, staunch in its view that girls are just as good, if not smarter than boys, calls out for women’s working opportunities to be expanded, and sympathy and assistance offered to struggling women, instead of scorn or unconcern.

Aged 20, Elizabeth (or Nellie as she would become) held firm views that did not change as she grew older. She called for action, not just words, from advocates for women, directly suggesting that leaders of the women’s movement, ‘forgo their lecturing and writing and go to work; more work and less talk.’ No wonder George Madden found something he could not pass up in her first letter to the paper. As Wilson later recalled Madden saying:

‘She isn’t much for style, but what she has to say she says it right out regardless of paragraphs or punctuation. She knocks it off and it is just right too.’

A week later, with his editorial guidance, the Lonely Orphan had her first piece in the newspaper.

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Elizabeth Cochrane was not yet Nellie Bly. But she was on her way.

Facebook Live this Sunday

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I’m excited (nervous) to announce that I’ll be live on Facebook this Sunday (Jan 27th @3pm ET/8pm GMT) talking about my books and all things historical fiction.

If you would like to join in, you’ll need to be a member of the Facebook group, The Fiction Cafe Book Club. This is a lovely closed group that I’d recommend to anyone who loves books and book recommendations. There are lots of readers and writers in the group chatting about fiction and sharing book related stuff.

To join the group, you need to be invited by a current member. Like me! So if you want to, just drop me a note by email (kate.braithwaite@gmail.com) or on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/KateBraithwaiteAuthor/), or comment on this post, and I’ll get you fixed up. The offer to join doesn’t mean you have to come to the author live on Sunday, but I’d love to see you there. I’ll be answering questions and running a competition to win… something that I haven’t quite thought up yet 😉

Thanks!

Kate xx

 

#otd Looking for the “Lonely Orphan Girl”

On Saturday January 17th, 1885, George Madden and Erasmus Wilson of the Pittsburg Dispatch decided to do what they could to find the author of a letter they’d received from someone calling themselves ‘Lonely Orphan Girl.’

In the ‘Mail Pouch’ column of the paper, where they featured letters to the editor, the following note appeared:

if the writer of the communiation

Why did they follow up with this particular letter writer? Erasmus Wilson later recalled the paper’s editor George Madden saying this:

“She isn’t much for style, but what she has to say she says right out regardless of paragraphs or punctuation. She knocks it off and is just right too.”

The Lonely Orphan Girl would go on to become a world famous journalist. Here is Nellie Bly’s biographer, Brooke Kroeger’s introduction to Nellie’s life story:

“Nellie Bly was one of the most rousing characters of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries… She feigned insanity and engineered her own commitment to a mental institution, then exposed its horrid conditions. She circled the globe faster than any living or fictional soul. She designed, manufactured, and marketed the first successful steel barrel produced in the United States. She owned and operated factories as a model of social welfare for her 1,500 employees. She was the first woman to report from the Eastern Front in World War 1. She journeyed to Paris to argue the case of a defeated nation. She wrote a widely read advice column while devoting herself to the plight of the unfortunate, most notably unwed and indigent mothers and their offspring.” (Brooke Kroeger, Nellie Bly – Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist)

But on January 17th, 1885, neither Madden or Wilson had any idea of what was about to unfold.

Would the Lonely Orphan Girl even see their advertisement?

And if she did, would she answer?

 

 

#otd The Nellie Bly story begins…

screen shot 2019-01-14 at 10.41.45 amOn January 14th, 1885, The Pittsburg Dispatch (yes, Pittsburgh was Pittsburg back then) published a column replying to a letter from an “Anxious Father.” The columnist was Erasmus Wilson, a kindly, avuncular gentleman, who wrote under the pseudonym of Q.O. (The Quiet Observer). Wilson’s “Quiet Observations”, in early 1885, were focused on the role of women and his views were strictly traditional. Women’s place was in the home.

In mid January, he received a letter from an ‘Anxious Father’, seeking advice on what to do with his unmarried daughters, aged between eighteen and twenty-six.  “I have five of them on hand,” wrote their father, “and am at a loss how to get them off or what use to make of them.”

Wilson did not hold back.

screen-shot-2017-08-28-at-3.53.10-pmIn his column, published alongside the letter, Wilson said he could not help the father. It was the parents’ responsibility to prepare their daughters to run households, he said. Women should be able to spin, sew, cook and clean. If women were not fit to run a home, then who knew, in the future, America might need to adopt the Chinese policy of killing baby girls or selling them as slaves! In the following week or two, as the ‘Anxious Father’ wrote to the paper again, Wilson went even further. Any woman ‘outside her sphere’ was a ‘monstrosity’, he declared, adding that ‘There is no greater abnormality than a woman in breeches, unless it is a man in petticoats.’

Wilson was being deliberately provocative. And the women of Pittsburgh were certainly provoked into responding.

photo posted on post-gazette.comBessie Bramble was one. The sole female columnist at the Dispatch, Bramble was a passionate writer and one of the few women journalists working at the time. She hit back at Wilson, defending women and rejecting his argument that ‘girls were only good for’ domestic drudgery.

Wilson’s column brought in letters too, including one from a twenty year-old girl called Elizabeth Cochrane. She lived in an Allegheny row house with her mother, siblings and some boarders the family took in, in order to make ends meet. After reading Wilson’s column on January 24th, Cochrane wrote a passionate letter to the paper. She did not include her address or her real name, but signed it “Lonely Orphan Girl.”

Wilson and the Dispatch’s editor George Madden, were intrigued, impressed even, by her response.

But how could they find the letter writer when they didn’t know her address, far less her real name?

 

Dec 21st: The Monopolists by Mary Pilon

“The Monopolists reveals the unknown story of how Monopoly came into existence, the reinvention of its history by Parker Brothers and multiple media outlets, the lost female originator of the game, and one man’s lifelong obsession to tell the true story about the game’s questionable origins.

Most think it was invented by an unemployed Pennsylvanian who sold his game to Parker Brothers during the Great Depression in 1935 and lived happily–and richly–ever after. That story, however, is not exactly true. Ralph Anspach, a professor fighting to sell his Anti-Monopoly board game decades later, unearthed the real story, which traces back to Abraham Lincoln, the Quakers, and a forgotten feminist named Lizzie Magie who invented her nearly identical Landlord’s Game more than thirty years before Parker Brothers sold their version of Monopoly. Her game–underpinned by morals that were the exact opposite of what Monopoly represents today–was embraced by a constellation of left-wingers from the Progressive Era through the Great Depression, including members of Franklin Roosevelt’s famed Brain Trust.

A gripping social history of corporate greed that illuminates the cutthroat nature of American business over the last century, The Monopolists reads like the best detective fiction, told through Monopoly’s real-life winners and losers.” (Amazon blurb)

monopolyWhy read The Monopolists?

I stumbled across the book quite by chance today. It just sounds fascinating! Who doesn’t have childhood memories of cheating at Monopoly…

Dec 20th – Queen Anne: the politics of passion by Anne Somerset

“She ascended the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1702, at age thirty-seven, Britain’s last Stuart monarch, and five years later united two of her realms, England and Scotland, as a sovereign state, creating the Kingdom of Great Britain. She had a history of personal misfortune, overcoming ill health (she suffered from crippling arthritis; by the time she became Queen she was a virtual invalid) and living through seventeen miscarriages, stillbirths, and premature births in seventeen years. By the end of her comparatively short twelve-year reign, Britain had emerged as a great power; the succession of outstanding victories won by her general, John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, had humbled France and laid the foundations for Britain’s future naval and colonial supremacy.

While the Queen’s military was performing dazzling exploits on the continent, her own attention—indeed her realm—rested on a more intimate conflict: the female friendship on which her happiness had for decades depended and which became for her a source of utter torment.” (Amazon blurb)

queen AnneWhy read Queen Anne: the politics of passion?

Two excellent reasons. First, because I went to see The Favourite yesterday. I loved it. Amazing acting and some hilarious one-liners. I wasn’t totally sold on the bunnies but all-in-all it’s a film I thoroughly enjoyed. All the clothes, sets and cinematography were just a pleasure to behold. The film is historical fiction, however, and I’m fascinated to learn what was true and what wasn’t etc. – hence the book choice.

Then reason 2. Queen Anne: the politics of passion is written by Anne Somerset. Not only did her book about the Affair of the Poisons massively inform the story in my first novel, Charlatan, but Anne Somerset also was extremely kind to me during the writing of it, said lovely things about it and let me quote her on the cover of the novel. In the land of the lowly new novelist without the backing of a big publisher that was a big, big, deal to me.

If Queen Anne: the politcs of passion is half as good a book as The Affair of the Poisons, and if Queen Anne’s life is half as interesting as it appeared in The Favourite, then this will be a great read.

Dec 19th: The Women who flew for Hitler by Clare Mulley

“Hanna Reitsch and Melitta von Stauffenberg were talented, courageous, and strikingly attractive women who fought convention to make their names in the male-dominated field of flight in 1930s Germany. With the war, both became pioneering test pilots and were awarded the Iron Cross for service to the Third Reich. But they could not have been more different and neither woman had a good word to say for the other.

Hanna was middle-class, vivacious, and distinctly Aryan, while the darker, more self-effacing Melitta came from an aristocratic Prussian family. Both were driven by deeply held convictions about honor and patriotism; but ultimately, while Hanna tried to save Hitler’s life, begging him to let her fly him to safety in April 1945, Melitta covertly supported the most famous attempt to assassinate the Führer. Their interwoven lives provide vivid insight into Nazi Germany and its attitudes toward women, class, and race.

Acclaimed biographer Clare Mulley gets under the skin of these two distinctive and unconventional women, giving a full—and as yet largely unknown—account of their contrasting yet strangely parallel lives, against a changing backdrop of the 1936 Olympics, the Eastern Front, the Berlin Air Club, and Hitler’s bunker. Told with brio and great narrative flair, The Women Who Flew for Hitler is an extraordinary true story, with all the excitement and color of the best fiction.” (Amazon blurb)

women who flew for hitlerWhy read The Women Who Flew for Hitler?

Ooh! Well yesterday’s book was Fly Girls about American women and then today I’ve got this book in front of me (well on my screen) looking at German women at the same time. Synchronicity? Both name 1936 as key years in the stories. I definitely need to read these two together… Anyone else see novel potential in all these lady aviators?