Who was Nellie Bly?

In her heyday, Nellie Bly was possibly the most famous woman in America, but she has been largely forgotten…

Elizabeth Jane Cochrane, who wrote under the pen-name Nellie Bly. (Photo by Interim Archives/Getty Images)

Born in Pennsylvania in 1864, Elizabeth Jane Cochrane took the pen-name of Nellie Bly from the title character in a popular song when she began to write for the newspapers.

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A daring foreign correspondent in Mexico when she was barely out of her teens, Nellie went on to greater renown when she went undercover as a patient in a New York lunatic asylum and revealed the cruel neglect with which the mentally ill were treated. Her book, Ten Days in a Madhouse, published when she was 23, became a bestseller.

Nellie’s greatest fame came two years later when she set out to emulate Phileas Fogg and journey around the world in 80 days. Her despatches to the New York World as she travelled the globe were read by millions. She gave up journalism at the age of 30 to marry and died 30 years later in New York.

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Answered by Nick Rennison.