Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Nellie Bly: A Name to Be Reckoned With

Nellie Bly: A Name to Be Reckoned With

Stephen Krensky
For ages 7 to 10
Aladdin, 2003   ISBN: 978-0689855733

Elizabeth Cochran was having a hard time. She was not pleased with her life. She was also frustrated because she had so few choices. Why was it that women were given so few choices and men were given so many? Men thought that women should be happy to stay at home, get married and have children. Well, here was one girl who wanted more from life.

So, Elizabeth, or "Pink" as her family called her, had written an angry letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch in response to a series of editorials that attacked women and girls who were not satisfied with being housewives and mothers. As a result of her letter she had ended up, much to her astonishment, being offered a job at the paper.

As Elizabeth had defended women who decide to work, the editor told her to write about these women and that is what she did, she took it upon herself to write about the women who worked in all sorts of jobs and who often had a terrible time of it. Elizabeth also took on a pen name, Nellie Bly, after a popular song of the times. Nellie Bly began to show the readers of the Dispatch what it was like to work in a factory for hour after hour without a break. Nellie even tried it herself and she saw how dreadful the work conditions were for hundreds and hundreds of factory workers and sweat shop girls. For many people, they were hearing the stories of the poor for the first time.

After a six month sojourn in Mexico, Nellie decided to move to New York City. It was time for a change and Nellie was determined to work for the New York World. As was typical of her she got her way but she had to earn it by taking on a project which would probably have scared off almost every other person. The owner of the New York World, Joseph Pulitzer, wanted to find out what was happening inside New York’s insane asylums. Nellie had "a desire to be convinced that the most helpless of God’s creatures, the insane, were cared for kindly and properly." There were rumors that the conditions in these institutions were quite the opposite but nothing could be proved.

Nellie then set about acting out the part of an insane person and getting herself committed to the infamous Blackwell’s Insane Asylum in the East River. Conditions inside the institution were appalling and Nellie was horrified at the way the patients were treated. Once released she wrote a series of articles about what she saw in the asylum during her ten days ‘imprisonment.’ Nellie also was a key witness at an investigation of the asylums that followed, and because of her testimony conditions did improve.

Now a staff reporter, Nellie went on to do various other undercover articles. Nellie took on all sorts of different stories but perhaps her most famous exploit was one that she took on when she felt in need of a break, a rest from her usual sort of writing. Nellie decided that she would take a trip around the world; however she would make it exciting by announcing that she would achieve this trip in "eighty days or less." Phileas Fogg, the fictional character from the book "Around the World in Eighty Days" by Jules Verne, had achieved the record in eighty days. Nellie would beat that record.

What followed was a wonderful adventure on ships and trains, with monsoons and humorous companions. Nellie’s victorious arrival back in New York 72 days and 6 hours after her departure made her famous throughout the world.

Stephen Krensky shows us very clearly throughout this book that Nellie Bly never stopped caring about the people who needed a voice to speak for them and never stopped daring to speak the truth no matter what that truth was. A wonderful storyteller, he brings Nellie and her times to life and he also shows us that Nellie had a charm and a sense of humor which must have made her a joy to be with.