How to Be More Like Nellie Bly

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Dear P,

This morning I was doing my usual perusal of my favorite blog, Brainpickings. Maria Popova wrote a post today about the 13 best biographies, memoirs, and histories of this year. In it is the book Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World. I had never heard of Nellie Bly, so this discovery prompted some quick research. P, I discovered that Nellie Bly was one of the coolest women in history. I think you will like her too, so this post is a brainstorm about how we can be more like Nellie Bly.

The Quests we did when this blog started were a good start. As you will recall, when we still lived in our hometown, bored out of our minds, we embarked in a series of quests that involved camping out in a library, making flower crowns, and creating beautiful forts:

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Nellie Bly had simliar types of quests, though hers were more oriented towards social activism than our teenage antics were. In 1887, Bly wanted to find out what insane asylums were like from the inside, so she convinced a team of doctors and psychologists that she was insane. She spent ten days as a patient inside the Woman’s Lunatic Asylum and found the conditions deplorable. She brought lots of attention to the poor conditions of asylum patients through her journalism, which was compiled into a popular book called “Ten Days in a Mad-House”.

Another of her self-assigned quests involved traveling around the world in eighty days like Jules Verne’s character Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days. She resolved, in fact, to beat Fogg, and travel around the world in less than eighty days. 1888, the year she set off, was still many decades before Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 flight across the Atlantic, and all her travel was by ship, railways, and, of course, foot. Along the way, she met Jules Verne, visited a leper colony in China, and bought a monkey in Singapore. The book mentioned in the first paragraph is about her journey.  She ended up reaching her goal and traveling around the world in seventy-two days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds.

Nellie Bly was an excellent journalist because she had the ability to both stand out and blend in. Many biographers of Nellie Bly comment on her average looks. Matthew Goodman, author of Eighty Days, describes her as “neither tall nor short, dark nor fair, not quite pretty enough to turn a head: the sort of woman who could, if necessary, lose herself in a crowd.” Many women would take being called “average-looking” as an insult, but I disagree entirely. When you need to fly under the radar, it can be an effective method of camouflage. In the book You Can’t Lie to Me, which I read this summer and highly recommend, the author Janine Driver discusses a friend of hers who is a middle-aged, sweet Southern woman who also happens to be a private investigator. This woman’s looks and status in society allow her to work her magic almost completely undetected. People will carry on private conversations or continue duplicitous activities in her presence. I know we are young and fairly good-looking, P, and you’re especially tall, but sometimes it’s fun to skip the makeup and dress down to fly under cover. Today I did and it allowed me to avoid a certain anxiety-inducing boss (you know who I’m talking about). Thanks, Nellie Bly!

Nellie Bly wasn’t afraid to stay flexible. After she retired from her journalism career, she became the president of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co., which made steel containers. She was one of the leading female industrialist in the U. S. and published several patents. When her company was foiled because of employee embezzlement, she fell back on her journalism career and covered the Suffragette Parade of 1913. She accomplished all these adventures before dying at only 57. Throughout her last days, she worked hard for the betterment of orphanages and children’s living conditions.

Here is a lovely rendering of Nellie Bly by “The Reconstructionalists“.

Stay adventurous, flexible, resourceful and generous,

E

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