Nellie Bly – Mad, Committed or Both? (Part Two)

(Continued from 4/8/18 – Find Part One here.)

Bly remained at Blackwell’s Island for ten days. What she saw, she could never forget. Doctors seemed oblivious to their patients’ illnesses. Orderlies and nurses abused their charges. They served their patients spoiled food. There was no access to warm clothing or clean linens. In short, the place was a rat-infested hell-hole. Bly herself had to endure one of the “treatments” which consisted of buckets of freezing water poured over her head. She and the others had to sit for twelve to fourteen hours straight-backed benches, unable to talk or move. Many of the women there were foreigners, not insane. Their inability to communicate in English rendered them “crazy.”

When her ten days were up, Joseph Pulitzer sent an attorney for Nellie’s release.

Bly’s story, done in a series, rocked New York and the world at large. Her writings forced Blackwell’s and other asylums around the country to change the way they treated and provided for their patients. Bly herself became an overnight sensation as the world’s newest and most provocative “investigative journalist.” She later compiled the articles into a book called Ten Days in a Madhouse.

Nellie Bly
(Wikipedia)

In 1889, Bly would make the news again. She had just read the fictional book, Around the World in Eighty Days, by the French writer Jules Verne, and she wanted to see if she could make history again. She suggested to her editor at the New York World, that she try to beat the record set by Phileas Fogg, the possible inspiration for Verne’s novel. A year later, she boarded the steamship the Augusta Victoria, and Bly was on her way to complete the journey. She took with her the dress on her back, an overcoat, several changes of underwear and toiletry essentials.

The itinerary included England, France, Brindisi, the Suez canal, Ceylon, Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. She traveled by steamer and railway. While in France, she met Jules Verne, and while in China she visited a leper colony. In Singapore, she bought a monkey.

Despite occasional setbacks due to weather or other complications, Bly returned to New York seventy-two days later. She had beat the record. However, a few months later by a man named George Francis Train beat her record. He completed the journey in 67 days. Still, Bly’s accomplishment had been duly noted.

Bly married at 30 years of age. Never one for convention, she married a man 40 years her senior, a millionaire named Robert Seamen, the owner of a manufacturing company called the Iron Clad Manufacturing Company. Nellie joined her husband in running his business and retired from journalism. She then became one of the leading women industrialists in the United States. She herself invented and patented a unique milk can, and a stacking garbage can.

The couple had a happy marriage, but Seaman died in 1904 leaving Bly with control of his company. Bly continued her quest for social reform and installed fitness gyms and libraries at the company and provided health care for her employees. However, the cost of these additional perks took a toll and her inheritance dwindled. In her later years, Bly returned to her journalistic roots. She covered women’s issues in World War I and also wrote extensively about the suffragette movement.

At age 57, Bly died in 1922 from pneumonia. But her legacy lives on. Articles, books, television shows and movies have been made about the courageous woman who, committed to her causes and the plight of women around the world, had herself committed to an insane asylum to affect change in her own life and reformation around the globe.

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