Posted at 06:07 PM ET, 05/05/2011

Nellie Bly: A thank-you note to the patron saint of female writers


Nellie Bly (Wikipedia Commons)
Just a quick note of gratitude to my patron saint of female reporters: Nellie Bly. Today would have been her 147th birthday.

I work in a newsroom where the publisher, managing editor, deputy managing editor, director of design, director of graphics, head of digital news products, and editor of the universal desk (the largest section of the newsroom) are all women. On my team, women outnumber men seven to three. Photographers Carol Guzy and Nikki Khan won Pulitzers at The Post this year. Monica Hesse writes so smartly, she can make her missing the royal wedding a good read. Whitney Shefte won a Peabody for filming the soldiers coming home with traumatic brain injuries. Karin Brulliard reports from Islamabad, Leila Fadel writes from Libya, and Liz Sly is at work in Beirut. This newspaper is bursting with smart, talented, incredible women.

In the immortal words of Doris Day, I enjoy being a girl. And I get to be a girl at my job and still do my job in no small part because in 1887, Nellie Bly walked in to the New York World and persuaded the paper to give her a shot at writing. Thank you, Nellie!

In case you don’t know Bly, here’s a biography from an earlier Post story: In 1887 she talked her way into a job on Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and adopted a hands-on manner of reporting her stories. An advocate for social reform, she wrote about poverty, divorce, unwed motherhood, domestic employees and the emptiness and boredom of young factory workers. To expose abuse of the mentally ill, she had herself committed to a mental asylum.

It was when she decided to challenge the fictional record of Jules Verne’s Phileas T. Fogg, who had supposedly circled the globe in 80 days, that she caught the fascination of readers everywhere. In November 1889, she started her trip, taking cargo ships, trains, tugboats and rickshaws, among other forms of transportation, and filing daily reports. By the time she returned home 72 days later, on Jan. 25, 1890, Bly was the most famous woman on Earth. She was only 25.

Update: Brooke Kroeger points out that like most things in Bly’s life, even her byline was carefully crafted for maximum impact. Her editor decided she needed a “neat and catchy” name and they settled on “Nellie Bly,” taken from a popular tune at the time, “Nelly Bly:”

By  |  06:07 PM ET, 05/05/2011

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