~posted by Ruth
When I was a young girl, I considered myself a daring reporter in the making; in fourth grade, I even started a neighborhood newspaper that I carefully hand-copied for all my neighbors. And I wasn’t bothered by a lack of hard news. One of my front-page stories carried the headline: DR. SHAGOURY HAS A BALD SPOT ON THE BACK OF HIS HEAD, (THOUGH HE IS AN EXCELLENT DOCTOR). Needless to say, my dad was not thrilled with my early forays into journalism. Luckily for my family, I turned to more private journal writing, and to reading about women journalists. One of the first biographies I read was of the ground-breaking journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochran, aka “Nellie Bly.” It was an amazing feat for a woman to be a journalist at the turn of the 19th century, and Nellie was particularly outstanding for her struggles against the male-dominated industry and her determination to report the stories no one else was covering–the stories of underprivileged women. Nellie Bly is also known for her globe-trotting adventure, showing she could duplicate the fictional Jules Verne feat of traveling around the world in 80 days. In the young reader biography I read as a girl, the author bemoaned the fact that Nellie Bly’s work and reporting on behalf of women had become little more than a footnote to her round-the-world adventure. Years later, I have found the same disappointing coverage of her career, especially in biographies for young readers. But I also discovered a stand-out bio for youth, as well as a novel for adults based on the real-life and reporting endeavors of the one and only Nellie Bly. Perfect for Women’s History month, and just right for a pair of books, One for You and and For Me. I hope different generations of readers will be inspired by these books and enjoy rich discussions of the role of woman reporters in today’s world, noting differences and similarities between the world of 100 years ago and today’s “turbulent times. ”
For Readers Middle School and Older:
Deborah Noyes creates the kind biography that readers can dig into, with a wealth of photographs both of Nellie and also important people and places of her time. Side-bars include quotes from Nellie Bly, as well as information about places and institutions that were part of this intrepid reporter’s first-person investigative reporting. The most daring of her undercover reporting was her decision to be committed to a famous (or infamous) insane asylum: New York City Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell Island. Her treatment as a patient was torturous, and she came to realize that if she had done this on her own without the backing of her newspaper, she never would have escaped the asylum. Her series “Behind Asylum Bars” was both a huge hit, but also forced major changes in the care of mentally ill patients. Notes does a great job of illuminating other important stories very personally investigated: she passed herself off as a maid to expose employment agencies’ ruses, got herself hired at a paper bag factory to show how girls slaved all day for little money in airless rooms filled with glue fumes. Not mention, the series she wrote on lobbyists’ corruption and her infamous tour around the world in 80 days. This is a fine bio that will entice your readers to learn more about Nellie Bly, and other intrepid heroes like her. Highly recommended.
For Adult Readers:
If reading about Nellie Bly from Noyes’ biography has you intrigued and interested in learning more about this unsung American hero, then David Blixt’s novel is for you. He has meticulously research her life and writings, and brings her incredible experiences to life with vivid and engaging writing. It’s an engrossing tale, full of a young woman’s rage against injustice and detailing the adventures Nellie Bly gets into because of that fury. Her romantic adventures make for engrossing reading, too (she married a millionaire, for example, and also made overtures to a married colleague she was attracted to, who hurt her by rebuffing her). She was chased out of Mexico for revealing government corruption. Readers are treated to a riveting–and true –account of a spirited and idealistic woman. Happy Reading!