"Bly's life--1864 to 1922--spanned Reconstruction, the Victorian
and Progressive years, the Great War and its aftermath. She grew up
without privilege or higher education, knowing that her greatest asset
was the force of her own will. Bly executed the extraordinary as a
matter of routine...As the most famous journalist of her own day, as
an early woman industrialist, as a humanitarian, even as a beleaguered
litigant, Bly kept the same formula for success: Determine right.
Decide fast. Apply energy. Act with conviction. Fight to the
finish. Accept the consequences. Move on."
Nellie Bly has long been a hero for me. I and so many other
women who write for newspapers owe her a big time debt of gratitude
for blazing a path for us. As a progressive and crusader, I deeply
admire the way she went undercover, even at great risk, to uncover
scandals. But I could never learn enough about her. In fact the
books I could get about her were in the juvenile section.
I was not the only one frustrated by lack of material about one
of our trailblazers. Brooke Kroeger, author of the quote above, was
deeply influenced by "...one of the most rousing characters of the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries." When she decided to
introduce her legacy to her then ten-year-old daughter, Brett, in 1986
she discovered a puzzling paucity of materials on her life. She also
found out that the materials that existed often contradicted one
another, not surprising since there was a decided dearth of primary
"The problem with Bly's legacy, then, was poor planning for
posterity. Guaranteeing a place in history, it seems, takes more than
living a phenomenal life. In most cases, it takes careful attention
to creating a documented record of that life that wasn't too hard to
retrieve. Something like: I squirreled; therefore I was."
Fortunately for the rest of us, Kroeger had the skills and
fortitude to accomplish what we could or would not. Her Nellie Bly:
Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist serves us up over 500 thought provoking,
well illustrated pages (Her notes and bibliography comprise almost 100
more) covering Bly's life from birth to funeral. In its various
chapters the reader get to see her as:
*a young woman robbed of a chance for an education by her wealthy
father's failure to make a will;
*a newspaper columnist whose career began with a letter the Pittsburgh
Dispatch signed "Lonely Orphan Girl";
*the daredevil reporter who created the genre of stunt reporting
through feats such as pretending to be insane to do undercover
investigation of an asylum reportedly abusing inmates;
*a traveler who managed to go around the world in record time well
before the advent of aviation;
And the wearer of so many other hats. Even the latter parts of Bly's
life that have been obscured by time are now available for our reading
At the end of her introduction Kroeger wrote, "My immersion in
Bly's life has triggered a dozen reactions--from delight to distaste.
Her story is fascinating. She deserves a full and lasting legacy. I
hope this book renews her license to provoke and to inspire."
If it doesn't I don't think anything can.
On a personal note, my friend, mentor, and former editor, Erin Rhoda,
proved herself a worthy heir of Bly's legacy. In a special section
she wrote of the life and too early death of a young heroin addict
named Garrett. For two and a half years they had carried on a
conversation. She portrays him as a complex human being involved in a
formidable struggle, a person of worth and value who was able to say,
"If this changes one kid's life, saves one kid from being in jail,
saves his family from the pain of seeing him go through it, saves one
kid from overdosing and dying, then all that I've done hasn't been in
A great big shout out goes out to Erin and the other women and men of
the press who open our eyes and make us care and think.
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod