Social Studies, United States History
Grade 5- 8
Students learn about one of the first female reporters. They use her technique of firsthand knowledge about a subject to write newspaper articles.
This activity can be completed as part of a Women's History Month unit, or as a standalone activity.
Begin the activity by introducing students to Nelly Bly, who was a woman reporter long before it was common to find women in the field.
What twenty-year-old woman in 1887 would dare have herself committed to a mental institution in order to write an article about the treatment of the mentally ill? Having achieved success with this technique once, what woman would dare to try it again to find out about prison life, sweat shops, and slums? The only correct answer to both questions is Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, better known as Nelly Bly!
Elizabeth received her first job when she wrote a response to an article that appeared in the Pittsburgh Dispatch. The article had been titled "What Girls Are Good For." Elizabeth's letter convinced many people, including the editor of the Dispatch, that women were good for writing.
America became aware of the woman reporter through the work of "Nelly Bly," Elizabeth's pen name taken from a song by Stephen Foster. For her stories, she went down in a diving bell and up in a balloon; she posed as a Salvation Army worker, a ballet dancer, and a criminal; she even spent the night in a house that was supposed to be haunted.
But her greatest feat was a trip around the world in only 72 days, 6 hours, and 11 minutes; she had broken the record of a character in Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days. By using trains, boats, and horses, she had made the trip of a lifetime and had even found time to stop in France and interview Verne himself. The headline on the day of the twenty-three-old woman's return to New York was "Father Time Outdone." Elizabeth often laughed and told about her uncle who had also traveled around the world--in a period of three years.
When Elizabeth was thirty, she married millionaire Robert Seaman who was eighty years old. Elizabeth retired from her work as a reporter. When Seaman died in 1904, she attempted to run his business, but lawsuits with employees cost her the fortune. Elizabeth returned to newspaper writing.
At a time in history when many women were restricted to housework and family, Elizabeth was a pace-setter with her travels, her adventures, and her writing. Until her death by pneumonia in 1922 at age 55, she was employed at the New York Journal and doing what she liked best--writing!