Famous Person: NELLIE BLY

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Grade Level: 3rd/4th/5th

Author: Beth West


Background

References

Objectives

Time Allotment

Resources Needed

Procedures

Assessment

Appendix A

Appendix B


Nellie Bly hasn't always been known by this name. When she was born, on May 5, 1864, her parents named her Elizabeth Cochran. Elizabeth was born and raised in a small mill town in Pennsylvania. It was here that she received one year of formal education, and was then taught by her father. He was a very wealthy and prestigious man of their town. When Elizabeth was five years old, the family moved to a nearby town called Apollo. They lived here a year and then her father died, so this meant that now her mother had a big responsibility to raise the children alone. Elizabeth's father had always encouraged his children to be curious, and to explore and learn as much as they could by reading. Her mother also encouraged them to use their minds. When Elizabeth was 15, she attending a boarding school for one year and then decided to stay at home and learn. She would spend hours at a time reading and writing in the family library. Elizabeth began to think that her name was too plain, so she added an "e" to her last name and she now was known as Elizabeth Cochrane.

In 1886, at the age of 19, Elizabeth and her sister moved to Pittsburgh. They were both very excited since they had always dreamed of living in a large and exciting place. Since their money was beginning to run low, Elizabeth went out in search of a job. She had an extremely hard time doing so. During this time period, by the age of 20 most of the women were either married or soon would be. So, those who were not had very few ways making money since it was difficult for women, during this time, to get a job other than becoming a governess for children, a maid, in stores as clerks, a factory worker or companions to elderly women. The work was hard, the hours long and the pay was low. Elizabeth did not want this, she wanted a career!

Women were not looked upon the same as they are today. At this time, women did not yet have the right to vote and were not treated the same as men. One day Elizabeth was reading the Pittsburgh Dispatch and came across an article entitled "What Girls Are Good For." This article made fun of women that were trying to get some of the same jobs that men had. It stated that unless women became nurses or teachers then they should stay at home and leave work to men. This made Elizabeth furious! Because of this article, she wrote a response to the newspaper stating how women should have the chance to do the same kinds of work as men and should be paid the same as them as well. She signed the letter "Lonely Orphan Girl," and mailed it. A few days later while reading the Dispatch, Elizabeth was greatly surprised to read a response to her letter published there. She decided to go right to the newspaper office and see what the managing editor, George Madden, had to say. Elizabeth received her first job because of her response to the news article. Her letter convinced many people, including the editor of the Dispatch, that women were good for writing. Elizabeth was excited that she had a job writing for a living and also that she was going to by a reporter.

The first article that she wrote for the paper was a hit! At this point Elizabeth became known as Nellie Bly. She took her pen name from Stephen Foster's song Nelly Bly when she began writing. Nellie's forte was writing about corruption and urban social conditions. She began her first big assignment. Nellie went into the factories around the area to see what it was like. She noticed the dirty floors and walls, rats running around, it was cold and dreary, the pay was terrible and none of the workers were talking with each other. Each time that Nellie visited these places she grew angrier and decided to publish an article telling the citizens what was happening in their community. Nellie became the voice for the working women and most of her readers loved her for the articles that she published. The sales of the paper shot up and George Madden was pleased with this. Not everyone was pleased, though. The owners of these factories wanted these articles stopped. Nellie began working in a new way by doing a style of reporting that no one had ever done before. She decided to pose as a poor working woman and get hired in a factory so that she could experience these things first-handed. She experienced seeing workers getting hurt including herself. Her hands would get cut up and bleed from twisting heavy copper wires into cables and the foreman would do nothing about it. She had been in factories where children only 10 and 12 years old were working long hours. Sometimes these jobs would only last a few hours or days just until she had plenty of material for her "inside" story. Nellie took her readers into streets, factories and homes they could not, or would not dare to, enter on their own.

Many people accepted Nellie's views and bills were introduced in the state legislature to take care of some of these horrible problems. Things started to get somewhat better for the lives of these poor people. Nellie received an honor never before given to a woman. She was invited to join the Pittsburgh Press Club. Now, the factory owners and other powerful people were furious. They threatened to stop advertising in the Dispatch if Nellie's articles did not stop. These people finally won and Nellie's assignments changed.

Nellie talked her way into a new job working for the Dispatch. She became a foreign correspondent, reporting from Mexico. She wrote about the music, fashion, food, the bullfights, the streets, the people and the countryside. Nellie's articles not only were published in Pittsburgh's Dispatch, but in other newspapers across the country as well. This gave the people an opportunity to learn about Mexico without actually visiting there themselves. After six moths of doing this, Nellie returned back to Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh, Nellie was once more reporting news that she didn't enjoy since she could no longer go into the factories and report on the conditions there. Nellie was miserable. She loved adventure and needed challenges. At this time, her mother moved to New York City and this sparked a big interest in Nellie, so she decided to move there with her. She was sure to find a job since it was the newspaper capitol of the world.

Nellie wasn't well known in New York and no one wanted to hire a woman reporter. Nellie tried and tried to get a job writing for the New York World. This is the paper that she wanted so badly to work for. Finally, with much persistence, Nellie got in and spoke with Joseph Pulitzer and John A. Cockerill, the World's managing editor. They were somewhat doubtful of her, but were very impressed with the ideas that she was wanting to report on. In three days, Nellie got the job doing her first assignment and she was so excited. She had a style of reporting that was unlike anyone else, but that the audience loved.

On her first assignment, Nellie pretended to be insane, had herself committed to the Blackwell's Island asylum, and wrote the inside story of conditions there. The patients there were treated badly and the living conditions were awful. Nellie thought that her time there would never end. After ten days, Nellie was rescued from this asylum. She had done it! She had actually pretended to be insane and they believed it. Nellie's story, Ten Days in a Madhouse, was published and copies of the World sold as fast as they were printed. Readers were shocked and outraged. They demanded that changes be made. This piece established her as a New York journalist of merit. She had become famous overnight.

Nellie had begun her trademark reporting for a newspaper once again. Having achieved success with this technique once, Nellie continued to write about her interesting experiences. Once, she even had herself arrested in order to write about life in side of a city jail. In 1888, Nellie exposed corruption and exploitation in Mexico in her book, Six Months in Mexico was published.

One day Nellie spoke to John Cockerill, the man who ran the newspaper. Nellie told him that she had read a book, by Jules Verne, called Around the World in 80 Days and that she wanted to try to beat his record. During this time transportation was much slower than it is today. Nellie always said, "Nothing is impossible." On November 14, 1889, she got on a ship in New Jersey and at last she was on her way around the world. By using trains, boats, and horses, she had made the trip of a lifetime and she even had time to stop in France and interview Mr. Verne himself. On January 25, 1890, Nellie completed her trip around the world in only 72 days. Nellie became a national hero after this adventure. She published these experiences as well.

At the age of 30, Nellie married Robert L. Seaman. He was a very wealthy man, but was 80 years old. After their marriage, Nellie gave up reporting and helped her husband with his business. When Seaman died in 1904, Nellie ran the company. For a while, everything went well, but then it all went downhill and the company collapsed in 1913. Because of all of the stress and pressures that Nellie had been under from the company going down hill, she decided to go on a vacation to Europe. In 1914, World War I broke out while she was in Austria on vacation, so she could not get back to the United States. Since she could not get back to the United States, she decided to return to newspaper work and began writing a column in the New York Evening Journal corresponding from Austria. This was another first for a woman! By doing this column, she helped find families to adopt children without parents. Nellie was employed here until her death in 1922 (at the age of 55) from pneumonia.

Nellie was a very remarkable reporter. She was known for her determination in getting the inside story of. Nellie is known as "The best reporter in America." Today, more than a fifth of the writers who have won Pulitzer prizes are women.


Carlson, Judy. (1989). "Nothing Is Impossible," said Nellie Bly. Milwaukee, WI: Raintree Publishers.

Davis, Dr. Anita P. and Selvidge, Dr. Marla J. (1995). Focus on Women. Grades 4-8. 30-31.Huntington Beach, CA: Teacher Created Materials, Inc.

"Elizabeth Cochrane." The Grolier Library of North American Biographies. (1994 ed). Vol 10 - Writers. 49-50. Grolier Educational Corporation.

Schneider, Marcia. (1993). First Woman of the News. New York, NY: SRA.


1. Students will be able to describe the main events and contributions made by Nellie Bly and the context in which they occurred.

2. Students will be able to use map skills to calculate the distance that Nellie Bly traveled.

3. Students will be able to report their observations of the area they chose to research in written andoral form.

4. Students will be able to participate in the discussion with the reporter and identify at least two things that they learned by writing a thank you note to her/him for coming.

5. Students will be able to identify at least four to five things that they learned about the printing press by having a class discussion and listing them on the board. The students will also write a thank you note to them listing these things as well.

6. Students will be able to identify the personal qualities and the contribution for which they would like to be remembered.



  1. World Maps
  2. Calculators
  3. Information for students research - Jigsaw
  4. Handouts from Appendix
  5. Book (newsletters) binding materials
  6. Guest speaker (newspaper reporter)
  7. Field trip (local newspaper printing press)
  8. 2 poster boards


Day 1: Mini-lecture. The teacher will begin by introducing Nellie Bly and presenting the background information to the students. Discuss the style of reporting that Nellie did and let them know that this is what made her famous. After presenting this information, have the students think about and choose somewhere or something they would like to learn more about. Instruct them that they must select one event or place that they can actually observe. Tell the students that they are not to sit down and interview a person. They are also not required to actually participate in the job like Nellie did. They just need to be in the environment and report on what goes on there. (Examples of what the students might do - going to a fire station, attending a city council, going to their local papermill, observing what goes on at a radio or TV station, etc.) The students must spend at least one hour in this environment. Be sure to remind them that their choice will need to be something that they can do within the next week. This assignment must be completed by class time on the following Monday. Inform the students that we will actually be publishing our own class newspaper for the classroom. At this time they will only need to bring with them their rough drafts. Have the students tell what some of their ideas are and adjust them accordingly.

 

Day 2: Map Skills. Instruct the students that today we will be estimatingthe route that Nellie took to travel around the world and seeing what the average number of total miles was that she traveled. Also, we will be calculating the average number of miles that Nellie needed to travel per day. Give the students the places that Nellie passed through and tell them that they must include this information in their calculations: she began by departing from a pier in New Jersey, then she went through England, France, Italy, passed through the Suez Canal, touched the shore at Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan, crossed the Pacific Ocean, landed in San Francisco, and there Nellie got on a train to return back to New Jersey. Divide the class into groups of four and give eachgroup a World map and a calculator (if needed). Discuss the results.

 

Day 3: Introduce Jigsaw. Introduce to the students that we will be researching four main areas of Nellie's life. The four areas will be: (1) Nellie's life from 1867 until getting her first job at the Dispatch; (2) her life working for the Dispatch; (3) her life in New York and working for the World; (4) her life when she got married until her death in 1922. Have the students get back into their same groups of four and each group will pull a number out of a cup (1-4). This number will determine which area that student will be researching. Hand out information from those four areas to each student in each group and have them begin their research (To get information on Nellie Bly, go to your local library and look up any of the references that have been listed in this unit or any others that are available). Tell them that they are to be researching their topic until we meet on day 5 back as groups to discuss what we have found. Give the students some ideas of what to look for as they are doing their researching (For example - the states that she lived in, what her childhood was like, her frustrations in looking for a job, what was her personality like, what were some of the main highlights in her life during this period of time, etc.) Instruct the students that they need to prepare a 6 to 8 minute presentation on their section (for day 5). Tell the students that each of them will become "experts" on their section of Nellie's life and that they will be teaching others about this time period. So, they need to choose their material carefully. They will have a quiz on "day 5", so they need to do a good job and research well (See Appendix B).

 

Day 4: Turn-2-Think. In their same groups of four pass out a set of question cards (See Appendix A). Have students in each group count off, one to four. Starting with student number one, have each student select a question card and read it aloud. Have all students think of their response. Then, have the same person turn over an answer card to see who will answer the question. Keep going until all the questions have been answered. If there is any time left, this may be used for the students to work on their Jigsaw topic.

 

Day 5: Jigsaw. Have the students get back into their groups. In their groups, they each have eight minutes to report on their topic. Be sure to remind them to cover their topic as best as they can since there will be a quiz at the end (See Appendix B).

 

Day 6: Writing Reports. Today the students will bring in their rough drafts of their report. Instruct the students to choose a partner, trade papers, and each of them edit each others report. The teacher should be assisting the students while they do this. After they finish editing, the students should begin write their reports in their best handwriting. Tell the students that this is what reporters go through each time that they do a report. Inform them that this is a lot of what it was like for Nellie each time that she did an article as well.

 

Day 7: Publishing. Allow some time for the students to finish writing their reports. Tell the students that you will bind them into a class "newspaper book" and have this available for them to read. We will also be sharing the book on Day10. For the last ten minutes or so, discuss and come up with questions that the students would like to ask the guest speaker. Let the students know that often times it takes several times of editing and revising before an article can be published. This is what people that work for the newspaper, like Nellie, go through.

 

Day 8: Guest Speaker. After introducing the news reporter, have her/him come in and share some of the things that reporters do. Have her/him include the positive and negative aspects of her/his job and their favorite report that she/he has done, etc. After the speaker leaves, discuss with the class what they thought about the job and life of a newspaper reporter. Have the students write a class thank you card (poster board) identifying at least two things that they learned about reporters. This will give the students an idea of some of the things that Nellie may have faced or done while she worked for the newspaper.

 

Day 9: Field Trip. Today the students will take a trip to visit the local newspaper printing press. After returning, discuss with them about their trip. Have the students write a class thank you card identifying at least two things that they learned. This will give the students an idea of after Nellie wrote or any reporter writes an article what happens to the article when it leaves the reporters hands to when it is published in a newspaper.

 

Day 10: Reading Reports/Learning Journal. Begin by having the students present their reports to the class. Remind students of Nellie Bly's story and that she received much recognition because she made a very important contribution to our country. In a leaning journal, have the students write about these two things: (1) Have each student write an entry telling three important things they have learned in their study of Nellie Bly; (2) Have each student imagine that she or he is grown up and that she or he has also made a great contribution. Have each student, in their journal, write something that they would like to be remembered for, personal qualities that they have, and how these qualities helped them in achieving their desire/goal (For example - Nellie was a courageous person and this helped her to have many adventurous experiences to write about in her articles).


1. Map skill results from each group will be assessed.

2. Jigsaw will be assessed by a quiz demonstrating the students knowledge on Nellie Bly.

3. Observations of responses to Turn-2-Think will be assessed anecdotally.

4. Papers written by students to identify reporting topic he or she chose will be assessed.

5. Observation of students willingness to take part in the guest speaker discussion will be assessed anecdotally.

6. A thank you note listing at least two things the students have learned from the guest speaker will be assessed.

7. Observation of students willingness to take part in field trip will be assessed anecdotally.

8. A thank you note listing at least four to five things the students have learned about the printing press from their field trip will be assessed.

9. A journal entry on three important ideas they have gained from mini-unit.

10. A journal entry written by students to identify a contribution she or he would like to make and the personal qualities for which they would like to be remembered will be assessed.


1. Turn-2-Think cards

2. Jigsaw quiz

 


Appendix A

In what area of the world di Nellie Bly live?

What descriptive words might you use to describe the personality of Nellie Bly?

 

What do you consider to be Nellie Bly's greatest accomplishment? Explain your choice.

 

What do you consider to be Nellie Bly's greatest strength and greatest weakness? Why?

Choose a symbol to represent Nellie Bly. Explain your choice.

Who do you think had the greatest impact on Nellie Bly? Why?

 

What might be changed if Nellie Bly did not exist?

 

What do you think was Nellie Bly's biggest challenge?

For what single action will Nellie Bly be most remembered?

 

What do the actions of Nellie Bly tell you about her morals and values?

 

What do you think was the most exciting time for Nellie Bly?

If Nellie Bly had lived his or her life in a different country, what may have been different?

 

What slogan might you use to best advertise Nellie Bly's life story?

 

How would you describe the emotional, intellectual and physical growth of Nellie Bly?

Complete the following statement. The subject is very ____________ because ___________.

What was Nellie Bly's family life like?

 


Appendix B

Name:______________

 

Jigsaw Quiz - Nellie Bly

 

Decide which of the following answers fits best with each of the statements below. Write the letter of the correct answer in the blank provided.

 

_____1. In what state was Nellie Bly born?

A. New York

B. Pennsylvania

C. New Jersey

D. France

 

_____2. What was Nellie's first job when she moved to Pittsburgh?

A. A store clerk

B. Nurse

C. News reporter

D. Factory Worker

 

_____3. Which one of these newspapers did Nellie not work for?

A. Pittsburgh Dispatch

B. New York World

C. New York Evening Journal

D. New York Times

 

_____4. What was Nellie's first reporting assignment?

A. Local factory conditions

B. Her trip around the world

C. Mexico

D. World War I

 

_____5. What was Nellie's biggest fear while she was on Blackwell's

Island Insane Asylum?

A. Being examined by the doctors there keeping her sanity

B. Eating the food there

C. Not surviving the week and starving to death

D. The patients would injure her

 

_____6. In how many days did it take Nellie to travel around the world?

A. 75

B. 72

C. 80

D. 78

 

_____7. Why did Nellie go to Austria after her husband's death?

A. To write a news article

B. Went on a vacation

C. To visit her relatives there

D. To become a war correspondent

 

_____8. What title was Nellie known for throughout the world?

A. "The insane woman"

B. "Our hero, Elizabeth Cochrane"

C. "Little Orphan Girl"

D. "The best reporter in America"

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