Nellie Bly. Wikimedia Commons
“Nellie Bly” was the professional pseudonym of Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman (1867-1922), one of Joseph Pulitzer’s best reporters at the New York World
. She won international fame in 1889 and 1890 by outdoing Jules Verne’s fictional hero in going around the world in fewer than eighty days (seventy-two days, six hours, ten minutes, and fifty-eight seconds). However, Nellie Bly was chiefly an investigative reporter with a driving zeal for social justice. Although not a political radical, she saw her mission as aiding the oppressed and downtrodden—the “neglected inmates of the New York City madhouse; degraded dwellers of filthy slum tenements; or malnourished, overworked, and underpaid women and children in sweatshops.” (Nebraska History
, Spring 1986)
Her compassion was aroused by the stories of the plight of Nebraska farmers after the drought year of 1894 when the state suffered from almost a total corn crop failure. In the early winter of 1895 Nellie Bly visited a tier of north and central Nebraska counties, as well as a small portion of South Dakota. She described her impressions of the blighted land and its people in a series of five articles, which appeared in the New York World
between January 18 and February 13, 1895.
“One glimpse of the home life out from the railroads and one is convinced that the tales of destitution in Nebraska have not been exaggerated,” she wrote in an article from Valentine. “I drove over thirty miles around the country to-day and I saw nothing but misery and desolation.”
Considered to be some of the best of her journalistic career, the articles helped convince the eastern press that the stories emanating from Nebraska in 1894 and 1895 were no exaggerations and encouraged eastern relief efforts to the Midwest.