Happy 151st birthday to former neighbor Elizabeth Cochrane — better known by her pen name, Nellie Bly — the pioneering feminist and investigative journalist who took the world by storm decades before women even had the right to vote, making a record-breaking trip around the globe in 72 days, faking insanity to shed light on the horrors at Blackwell’s Island, penning an exposé on New York City’s orphan market, and so much more.
Bly, who was born in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on May 5, 1864 and died of pneumonia at the long-defunct St. Mark’s Hospital in Manhattan on January 27, 1922, lived at 184 Marlborough Road, between Albemarle and Beverley Roads. (If you’re interested in learning more about the house, Brownstoner wrote this nice profile of the home several years ago.) The former Prospect Park South resident also had an amusement park at 1824 Shore Parkway named after her, which was renamed Adventurer’s Park in 2007.
The intrepid reporter got her start in journalism in 1885 after she sent a letter lambasting the Pittsburgh Dispatch’s column titled “What Girls Are Good For,” in which the author, Erasmus Wilson, called working women a “monstrosity.” So inspired by her passion, the newspaper’s editor, George Madden, ran an ad asking for the letter writer to come forward (Bly had only identified herself as “Lonely Orphan Girl”). She did — and was hired immediately.
Cochrane donned the pen name Nellie Bly, after the song by Stephen Collins Foster, and went on to change the world, first working at the Dispatch and then landing a reporting position at the New York World in the late 1880s. It was in New York that Bly became a household name upon publishing countless pieces that gave voice to the voiceless — female factory workers, women living in the insane asylum at Blackwell’s Island, servants, orphans, and many more (you can read much of her writing here and here).
Bly forever changed journalism’s landscape with her immersive reporting and inspired plenty of people along the way — including our neighborhood’s own Deedle Deedle Dees, who wrote this ode to an amazing woman who once walked our streets.