Google Celebrates Reporter Nellie Bly's Birthday with Karen O, Doodle

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Today would be Nellie Bly’s 151st birthday, and Google has chosen to celebrate it with a Doodle, pictured below.

Screen shot 2015-05-05 at 12.04.35 PMThe Doodle is accompanied by a song by the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O, singing about how others may have said “shut up,” but Nellie was undaunted. Nellie Bly (aka Elizabeth Cochran Seaman) has been one of my favorite women in history since the 6th grade. I was fascinated by the tiny three sentence blurb her exploits got in my history book. The blurb was about how she went undercover in one of the Women’s Lunatic Asylum, and discovered the horrific treatment patients were receiving at the facility. I would later learn her career started when she wrote a retort to a Pittsburgh Dispatch letter entitled “What Are Girls Good For.” The write of “What Are Girls Good For” said women were for having babies and minding the house. Her reply, “The Girl Puzzle,” would cause the editor to ask for her identity (she had responded anonymously) and then hire her. And what a reporter he got…only to have her do mostly content on fashion, society, etc. She eventually served as a foreign correspondent in Mexico at the age of 21, and published her experiences as Six Months in Mexico.

In 1887, while working for a different paper, Nellie Bly wanted to see what the conditions of the asylum were like, and hatched a plan. She faked illness, and was admitted as a patient after being found “crazy” by a police offer, judge, and finally, the asylum doctor. For 10 days she was subjected to some fo the same treatment cast upon the women at the asylum, including frigid baths and having to sit quietly for hours on end. After her release at her employer’s request, her expose eventually became a book, Ten Days in the Mad-House. The book and report launched an investigation and led to reform of both the practices and the exams that would lead to admittance into the asylum. This was in 1887.

Nellie Bly, image in public domain from Wikipedia

Nellie Bly, image in public domain from Wikipedia

In 1888, Bly took herself and America on a trip around the world, launching on a voyage replicating the one depicted in Around the World in Eighty Days. Although many thought it couldn’t be done, and one rival newspaper even sent their own female reporter to try it, Bly won the race.

These are the two events that history books (I hope) highlight as some of her crowning achievements, but from the moment she spoke up about what girls were good for, she was an unwavering advocate of women’s rights and a social justice leader for the poor and lower class. She was the type of feisty and brave women I admire in TV and in film, and I can’t wait to see her story on film. 2016 should bring an adaptation of Ten Days in a Mad-House, and we’ll have to see if it does her story justice.

Go play the Google Doodle and see an animation of some of these major events!


Bri is the founder and co-editor of What the Fangirl. She loves chai lattes, Disney and fairy tales.

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