Nellie Bly , pseudonym of Elizabeth Cochrane, also spelled Cochran (born May 5, 1864, Cochran’s Mills, Pennsylvania, U.S.—died January 27, 1922, New York, New York), American journalist whose around-the-world race against a fictional record brought her world renown.
Elizabeth Cochran (she later added a final “e” to Cochran) received scant formal schooling. She began her career in 1885 in her native Pennsylvania as a reporter for the Pittsburgh Dispatch, to which she had sent an angry letter to the editor in response to an article the newspaper had printed entitled “What Girls Are Good For” (not much, according to the article). The editor was so impressed with her writing that he gave her a job.
It was for the Dispatch that she began using the pen name “Nellie Bly,” borrowed from a popular Stephen Foster song. Her first articles, on conditions among working girls in Pittsburgh, slum life, and other similar topics, marked her as a reporter of ingenuity and concern. At a time when a woman’s contribution to a newspaper was generally confined to the “women’s pages,” Cochrane was given a rare opportunity to report on wider issues. In 1886–87 she traveled for several months through Mexico, sending back reports on official corruption and the condition of the poor. Her sharply critical articles angered Mexican officials and caused her expulsion from the country. The articles were subsequently collected in Six Months in Mexico (1888).
In 1887 Cochrane left Pittsburgh for New York City and went to work for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. One of her first undertakings for that paper was to get herself committed to the asylum on Blackwell’s (now Roosevelt) Island by feigning insanity. Her exposé of conditions among the patients, published in the World and later collected in Ten Days in a Mad House (1887), precipitated a grand-jury investigation of the asylum and helped bring about needed improvements in patient care. Similar reportorial gambits took her into sweatshops, jails, and the legislature (where she exposed