Nellie Bly

The journalist who New York newspaperman Arthur Brisbane called “the best reporter in America” for years had a famous name but an unfamiliar life. Now the extraordinary and inspiring Nellie Bly has become unforgettable as well.

As famous as her byline became—from articles like her “Around the World in 80 Days” series and her expose of conditions in an insane asylum—it was a pen name given her by Pittsburgh DISPATCH editor George Madden from a popular Stephen Collins Foster song about a servant girl. Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in 1864 and dubbed “Pink” throughout her youth, Nellie Bly’s name and work and life touched on both Victorian and Progressive eras, social reform and political reaction, and wars against Spain and in Europe.

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Bly almost single-handedly bridged the trends of sensationalism and muckraking, doing stunt stories with substance and becoming a personality without sacrificing her character. Further, she became a pioneer newswoman and role model for other journalists who happen to be female.

Her many adventures in and out of the press, both as observer and observed, are chronicled in Brooke Kroeger’s fascinating book. Yet finding and rebuilding Bly’s life was no easy task. Kroeger faced a lack of reliable material, she writers, but drew from her own experience as a reporter to get the story. The results are remarkable, a well-written account of an unusual,...

(The entire section is 409 words.)