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!
- Discussion Questions
- Knowledge: What was Nelly Bly's married name?
- Comprehension: Why was a trip around the world so unusual in Nelly's time?
- Creative Thinking: Plan a news story that Nelly might wish to cover in your community. Remember that she covered haunted houses, hospital visits, and tried various occupations.
- Application: Write a news story about something that is going on in your school. Be sure to give it a "catchy" title.
- Analysis: List some of the news stories that Nelly Bly wrote.
- Synthesis: Plan a trip around the world for Nelly today. Try to use as many means of transportation as possible. Do not forget you can include camels and donkeys as well as rockets and planes. (Be sure to use the animals in their appropriate settings.) To help you, use a chart with these headings: From (Place), To (Place), Method of Transportation.
- Evaluation: Which of the modes of transportation you listed above is the most unusual? Which do you think Nelly would enjoy most? Why?
- Affective: Nelly made a difference by writing about the treatment of the mentally ill people. Is there a group of people in society today that is not getting a "fair shake" in your opinion? Is there anything you can do to make a difference in their lives?
- Skills Focus
- Language and Communication Skills: Pretend you are Nelly Bly and that you have just completed the trip around the world as planned in the activity above. Have a friend interview you and ask you questions about that trip.
- Independent Study Skills: Is there an award given to good news stories? Use your library to find out about this award(s).
- Manipulative Skills: Using a large sheet of construction paper, display the news stories each class member has written. Post the "newspaper" somewhere in your school for others to see.
- Social Science
- Job Description: When you accompany your parents to the grocery store or when you visit the school cafeteria, observe the workers. Watch what they do. Watch what others say to them. When you get a chance, write a description of one of the jobs. What are the good points of that job? Are there bad points? Describe this occupation as Nelly Bly might have written about it.
Distribute the Newspaper Article activity sheet to students. Have them use what they have learned about Nelly Bly to complete the activity.
- Newspaper Article activity sheet
- drawing materials