An Autobiography: Chapter 34, Roosevelt Island – Nellie Bly

| 10/5/2012 12:10:25 PM

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Not long after Charles Dickens’ visit to the insane asylum, there were cries for investigation, and by this time newspapers began to feature investigative reporting that would increase circulation. Thanks to The World’s revival of the shocking as daily newspaper fare, the subject of ill-treated lunatics was a natural. And for women in journalism, the only hope of getting off the society pages was the wild side of “detective” reporting. The name Nellie Bly fast became synonymous with this new kind of reporting.

“Behind Asylum Bars” was the headline of Nellie Bly’s first installment of the illustrated two-part series in The World, on October 9, 1887. By the time the second installment ran a week later, Nellie Bly was no longer just a byline. The headline, set in large type, attracted the reader’s eye:

Nellie Bly 034 

Nellie Bly 

INSIDE THE MADHOUSE Nellie Bly’s Experience in the Blackwell’s Island Asylum, Continuation of the Story of Ten Days with Lunatics, How the City’s Unfortunate Wards Are Fed and Treated, The Terrors of Cold Baths and Cruel Unsympathetic Nurses, Attendants Who Harass and Abuse Patients and Laugh at Their Miseries.

Two month’s later, Nellie Bly’s Ten Days In a Mad-House was in book form. In a matter of days, Nellie Bly had caused the sensation she had hoped for and, in the process, became one herself. For her to be able at feigning insanity and live to write about it was an extraordinary feat. For a woman journalist to achieve this in that time, its brilliance was absolutely staggering. Her fame was soon spread far and wide.

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