Nellie Bly

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Nellie Bly


Elizabeth Cochron Seamen (Nellie Bly) was born in Chochran's Mills, Pennsylvania in 1864. She grew up in wealthy family under the loving care of Mary Jane Kennedy Cochran and Judge Michael Cochran along with her twelve other siblings until her father's death brought the family into poverty. Mary Jane remarried to Elizabeth's abusive step father. She attended Indiana State Normal School for a year until she was forced to drop out due to her family's financial trouble.



Lasting Impact

The issue of the treatment of the mentally ill was one that no one saw of having much importance. Up until the dawn of the industrial era, the mentally disabled were simply cared for at home. But with the industry on the rise, people began to fear them and so states built asylums to isolate the mentally ill from the rest of the world. Conditions at these "madhouses" were terrible. The patients endured freezing cold ice baths, beatings, unsanitary living conditions and infested food. The staff were clueless doctors and harsh nurses who took out their anger towards patients through beatings and verbal abuse. The patients were given unsafe amounts of morphine and chloral to "help them". There were unsanitary towels and bathtubs, disgusting facilities, flies everywhere and replusive food. The aslyums wre overcroweded and dirty, there were bars on the windows and the endless days went by with nothing for patients to do.

Treatment of the Mentally Ill

Growing up under the care of an abusive stepfather, Nellie was forced to become a strong, independent woman. It fueled her need to voice her opinion and make a difference. Nellie was also a huge woman's rights activist along with her support for equality for everyone. She went undercover at the asylim because she wanted to help understand the life there more than any other journalist had before. She wanted to help those who couldn't help themselves. But most importantly, she was out to prove herself as a journalist.


To get the real story on what went on in aslyums, Nellie went undercover as a patient in New York's notorious Blackwell Island asylum for woman for 10 days. But before she did this, she changed her appearance by dressing in rags and not bathing or brushing her teeth. She also prepared by acting like a lunatic in front of the mirror and took the name of an Italian immigrant, Nellie Moreno. To get herself admitted, she checked herself into a boarding house.

After the publication of her book, Nellie was an insant celebrity. She made New York give 3 million dollars more than ever before to the asylums. Because of Nellie, abuses were stopped, staff was replaced, sanitation improved and all foriegn patients were released.


"What a mysterious thing madness is. I have watched patients who lips are forever sealed in perpetual silence. They live, breathe, eat; the human form is therer, but that something, which the body can live without, but which cannot exist without a body, was missing."-Nellie Bly

She terrified her roommates until they finally called the police to take her away. Nellie managed to convince the police, a judge and four doctors that she was actually insane and she was shipped off to Blackwell Island. After her release, she published a book titled 10 Days in a Madhouse that described in full detail the experiences she had at the asylum.

"All asylum clothing is made by patients, but sewing does not employ one's mind. After several months' confinement the thoughts of the busy world grow faint, and all the poor prisoners can do is sit and ponder over their hopeless fate."-Nellie Bly

By Emily Cavaliere

Nellie Bly


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