We Heart: Google’s Celebration of Feminist Badass Nellie Bly

Oh Nellie, take us all around the world and break those rules cos you’re our girl!

May 5 marks pioneering journalist and world traveler Nellie Bly’s 151st birthday and as a tribute to the remarkable life of this extraordinary woman, Google designed a delightful Doodle featuring a cartoon Bly and the sweet vocal stylings of Yeah Yeah Yeahs front woman Karen O.

Bly was born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in 1876 in Cochran’s Mills, Pennsylvania. She was only 18 when, in response to a particularly misogynistic editorial by The Pittsburgh Dispatch columnist Erasmus Wilson calling the working woman “a monstrosity” and asserting women belong in the home cooking, cleaning and tending children, Bly took Wilson to task, penning a scathing rebuttal and sparking a reputation as a fearless, feminist force. Impressed by Bly’s fiery brand the Dispatch offered her a position, which Bly accepted. It was there that she officially adopted her now-famous moniker.

The paper soon confined Bly to the “women’s page,” however, and insisted she spin stories of stereotypically feminine interest. Uninterested, Bly relocated to New York and launched her investigative reporting career at Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. There, Bly cemented her legacy as a socially conscious champion of the poor and disenfranchised, bringing to light the plight of women factory workers, the corruption of public officials and society’s neglect of the impoverished. In 1887, Bly famously exposed the living conditions of the mentally ill residing in New York’s Blackwell Island, posing as a patient to uncover the institution’s most egregious offenses and thus innovating a new kind of investigative reporting cynically dubbed “stunt reporting” by her critics.

But Bly’s ambition and adventurous spirit were not limited to the newsroom. In November 1889, she embarked on a trip around the world, daring to topple Around The World In Eighty Days‘s fictitious hero Phileas Fogg’s globe-circling record. Seventy-two days, six hours and 11 minutes later, Bly had earned a new world record, traversing the earth by several varied means including ship, train, rickshaw and burro.

As evidenced by Google’s Doodle, Nellie Bly continues to inspire and influence generations of women the world over. Happy Birthday, Nellie Bly!

Front page photo courtesy of Flickr user gafa kassim licensed under Creative Commons 2.0



Kitty Lindsay is a Ms. blogger and works at the Feminist Majority Foundation. She is also creator and host of Feminist Crush, a weekly podcast featuring conversations with feminist artists and activists. Follow her on Twitter!