(Image via pbs.org)
From PBS.org: For six months, Nellie knocked on the doors of New York newspapers. Finally, she talked her way into the office of John Cockerill, managing editor of Joseph Pulitzer’s “New York World.” In what was either a bold challenge or a veiled brush off, he asked that she write a story about the mentally ill housed at a large institution in New York City. She did, impersonating a mad person, and came back from Blackwell’s Island 10 days later with stories of cruel beatings, ice cold baths and forced meals that included rancid butter.
Her story, appearing with illustrations, was published in the “New York World.” Her report of the cruelty stirred the public and politicians and brought money and needed reforms to the institution. At only 23 years of age, Bly had begun to pioneer a new kind of undercover, investigative journalism that her peers, somewhat jealously called “stunt reporting.
“I took upon myself to enact the part of a poor, unfortunate crazy girl, and felt it my duty not to shirk any of the disagreeable results that should follow.”
“I had never been near insane persons before in my life, and had not the faintest idea of what their actions were like.”
“How can a doctor judge a woman’s sanity by merely bidding her good morning and refusing to hear her pleas for release? Even the sick ones know it is useless to say anything, for the answer will be that it is their imagination.”
“I have watched patients stand and gaze longingly toward the city they in all likelihood will never enter again. It means liberty and life; it seems so near, and yet heaven is not further from hell.”
“Even that was all consumed after two days, and the patients had to try to choke down fresh fish, just boiled in water, without salt, pepper or butter; mutton, beef, and potatoes without the faintest seasoning.”
“In our short walks we passed the kitchen where food was prepared for the nurses and doctors. There we got glimpses of melons and grapes and all kinds of fruits, beautiful white bread and nice meats, and the hungry feeling would be increased tenfold.”
“They were being driven to a prison, through no fault of their own, in all probability for life. In comparison, how much easier it would be to walk to the gallows than to this tomb of living horrors!”
“I hardly expected the grand jury to sustain me, after they saw everything different from what it had been while I was there. Yet they did, and their report to the court advises all the changes made that I had proposed.”