This issue contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking the link, we’ll earn some money for coffee, which we promise to drink while thinking fondly of you, you beautiful bastard.

Nellie Bly was 23 years old when a New York City judge declared her insane. She stood before the judge, shivering, declaring she was unsure of where she was or where she had come from.

The year was 1887, and what no one knew — not the judge before her, the police officer who escorted her, the women’s home matron who accompanied her or the doctor who examined her — is that Bly was just fucking pretending. Being declared insane was exactly what she wanted. Bly had practiced her act of insanity to get herself committed to New York’s infamous insane asylum, Blackwell’s Island. Over the next ten days, she would observe the living conditions and treatment of patients and later publish an explosive expose that would transform mental health care in the city. 

Her infamous stay at the asylum would mark the beginning of Bly's pioneering career as an investigative journalist, one defined by her relentless tendency to see fucked up shit going on and declare, “Not on my watch.”

'Lonely Orphan Girl'

Bly was born in Pennsylvania in 1864 and was one of 14 children.

At the age of 21, Bly caught the attention of the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch when she wrote a response to an article titled “What Girls are Good For,” which, as you can imagine, made a weak ass case for keeping women full of children and in the kitchen.

Bly was like, "Allow me to school this dumb fuck," and wrote a rebuttal. Her impassioned response, which was written under the pseudonym “Lonely Orphan Girl,” so impressed the editor that he asked her to write for the paper.

Her work at the Pittsburgh Dispatch was aimed at shattering the dick-bag notion that women were second-class citizens: she posed the radical idea that women were more than just incubators, that not all women would marry, and that the market needed better jobs available to women. 

Bly began her work at the paper by writing a series of articles on the lives of women factory workers, but the disgusting pigs that ran the city’s factories began complaining to the newspaper. She was exiled to the women’s pages to cover fashion, society, and gardening, the usual role for women journalists.

But, badass that Bly was, she said, “Fuck this shit,” and moved to Mexico to work as a foreign correspondent for six months. There, she did what she did best: writing about everyday people whose lives were affected by corrupt, money-hungry government fuck wads. When she wrote about the unlawful imprisonment of a local journalist, Mexican authorities threatened her with arrest, and she was forced to flee the country. 

Nellie Bly in Mexico.

Upon returning from Mexico, the Pittsburgh Dispatch once again put Bly on the women’s pages. She gave the paper the finger and went to New York City, where she talked her way into Joseph Pulitzer’s (yes, that Pulitzer) paper, New York World. It was there she received the asylum assignment.

During her ten days at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island, Bly saw firsthand the deplorable conditions in which patients were forced to live, forced labor, and substandard health care. Her investigation and subsequent article led to a grand jury investigation and the city of New York allocating an additional $1 million a year to care for the mentally ill. 

Around the World in 80 Days

Bly continued to go undercover to root out corruption. She went undercover as a lobbyist to expose corruption in the New York legislature; she orchestrated her own arrest to write about prison conditions for women; she even ended up BUYING A FUCKING BABY in an investigation of a black market baby-selling ring.

In perhaps her most bad bitch move yet, in 1888, Bly embarked on a mission to complete the fictionalized trip in the popular book Around the World in 80 Days by Jule Verne. But she didn’t do it in 80 days — she did it in 72 days like the fucking G she was. In the course of 24,898 miles, she went to England, France, Italy, the Suez Canal, Malaysia, Singapore, Hongkong, and Japan. 

Nellie Bly looking foxy and powerful after her record-breaking trip around the world.

Bly left her journalism career temporarily in 1895 when, at the age of 31, she married a 71-year-old millionaire (bit of an age gap, but no judgment here). After he died in 1904, she took over running his manufacturing enterprise.

Because she was a decent fucking person who gave her employees health benefits and built them recreational facilities, and she wasn’t the best at finances, the factory shut down. 

Bly jumped back into journalism, covering the suffrage procession, for which she penned an article titled “Suffragists Are Men’s Superiors" (indeed!). During WWI, she traveled to the Eastern Front to report on the war. While there, she was the first woman and the first foreigner to visit the warzone between Austria and Serbia. 

Bly died in 1922 at the age of 75. Her work inspired generations of women journalists and bad bitches. The New York Press Club holds an annual Nellie Bly Cub Reporter journalism award; she’s been featured on a U.S postage stamp, and last year, an opera based on her time in the asylum debuted in Philidelphia. 


There is so much more to Nellie Bly that could fit in this measly newsletter. If you’re interested in learning more, check this shit out:


Bly’s reporting on the asylum was published in a book, 10 Days in a Madhouse. Read the digital version here bu,y the graphic novel version, OR buy the plain Jane book version.

Read more about her life in Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist by Brooker Kroeger. 

We weren't going to leave you hanging with the weird ass baby story. Read "Nellie Bly Buys a Baby" here.


Read about her incredible fucking adventure across the globe in Around the World in 72 Days.

Listen to The Very Best of Nellie Bly: 10 Days in a Mad House and Around the World in Seventy-Two Days on Audible.


Drunk History did a fucking awesome episode on Nellie Bly. You should watch it here.

Share this post