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Genuine Heroines - Nellie Bly

I’m a writer of honest fantasy, genuine heroines and wellness wisdom.

Genuine heroines are women who are tough, yet kind, who can rescue themselves, yet welcome the support of friends. They don’t wear bikini armour and they don’t fight hordes of baddies after three days of no sleep and no food. Inspired by genuine heroines throughout history, I write female characters with depth, complexity and passion

Therefore, I’m continuing this series of blog posts about historical female characters who I have found inspirational. There are explorers, adventurers, healers, rights activists and world changers. These are real world characters with exceptional stories that I’m excited to share with you.

This month it's Nellie Bly - journalist and adventurer.

Nellie Bly was the pen name of Elizabeth Cochran Seaman. She was born in 1864 in Pennsylvania. Her father, Michael, owned a mill and was the son of an Irish immigrant. Michael had ten children with his first wife and five children, including Nellie, with his second wife.

In 1880, the family moved to Pittsburg. There, Nellie read an article in the Pittsburg Dispatch which stated that women were only good for birthing children and keeping house. Incensed, Nellie wrote a response refuting those claims. Impressed by her writing, the editor offered her the chance to write an article, in which she discussed the impact of divorce on women. The editor then offered her a full time job and chose the pen name Nellie Bly after the song by Stephen Foster.

Nellie wrote articles about working women and their plight in factories, however, after the newspaper received complaints from factory owners, she was reassigned to cover stories on fashion and gardening. Dissatisfied, she travelled to Mexico and spent six months as a foreign correspondent.

In 1887, Nellie moved to New York and took an undercover assignment with the New York World. She had herself committed to the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island and spent ten days investigating the terrible conditions there. Her findings led to improvements within the asylum and brought about reforms. In addition, her work shed light on the lives of marginalised women, changing the social attitudes of the time.

In 1889, Nellie set off from New York in the first ever attempt to break the fictional record set in the book Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. She took only a small bag containing a change of underwear and toiletries, and a purse tied around her neck. Travelling most of the way by herself, using steamships and railways, she travelled to England, then France, and through Europe and Asia. After crossing the Pacific, she landed in San Francisco, before taking a train back to New York. After covering over forty thousand kilometres, she completed her journey in seventy two days, setting a new world record.

Between 1889 and 1895, Nellie wrote eleven novels for the New York Family Story Paper which printed a chapter each week.

In 1895, Nellie married Robert Seaman who was head of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Company. When they married, Nellie was thirty one and Robert was seventy three years old. After Robert died in 1904, Nellie took over the running of the company, ensuring there was good social welfare, including health benefits and recreational facilities, for employees. The company made milk cans, boilers and oil drums. Nellie herself invented and patented a novel milk can and a stacking rubbish bin. She was a leading female industrialist in her day but embezzlement by a manager and poor financial governance led to the company going bankrupt.

During World War 1, Nellie reported on the events on Europe’s Eastern Front and was the first woman to visit the war zone between Serbia and Austria. She also reported on the Woman Suffrage movement, continuing her efforts to bring to light women’s struggles.

Nellie died of pneumonia in 1922, aged fifty seven.

Nellie Bly led an incredible life, travelling the world and speaking out for women’s rights. I’m writing a story at the moment about Theo’s great-grandparents, Siria and Jossryn. Like Nellie, Siria is championing social reform and giving marginalised women a voice. Nellie inspires me to write strong female characters who stand up for what they believe in.

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