Nellie Bly (May 5, 1864 – January 27, 1922) was the pen name of American pioneer female journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochran. She remains notable for two feats: a record-breaking trip around the world in emulation of Jules Verne's character Phileas Fogg, and an exposé in which she faked insanity to study a mental institution from within. In addition to her writing, she was also an industrialist and charity worker.
Born on May 5, 1864 as Elizabeth Jane Cochran in Cochran's Mills, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, 40 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, she was nicknamed "Pinky" for wearing that color as a child. Her father, Michael, a began as a modest laborer and mill worker. He then bought the mill and all the land around his family farmhouse. He eventually owned so much land that the town was named Cochran's Mills. Her mother, Mary Jane, stayed at home and raised her step-sons and step- daughters. As a teenager Bly changed her surname to Cochrane, apparently adding the "e" for sophistication. She attended boarding school for one term, but dropped out because of a lack of funds. In 1880, Cochran and her family moved to Pittsburgh. A sexist column in the Pittsburgh Dispatch prompted her to write a fiery rebuttal to the editor with the pen name "Lonely Orphan Girl." The editor was so impressed with Cochran's earnestness and spirit that he asked the man who wrote the letter to join the paper. When he learned the man was Cochrane he refused to give her the job, but she was a good talker and persuaded him. Female newspaper writers at that time customarily used pen names, and for Cochran the editor chose "Nellie Bly", adopted from the title character in the popular song "Nelly Bly" by Stephen Foster.
Nellie Bly focused her early work for the Dispatch on the plight of working women, writing a series of investigative articles on female factory workers. But editorial pressure pushed her to the women's pages to cover fashion, society, and gardening, the usual role for female journalists of the day. Dissatisfied with these duties, she took the initiative and traveled to Mexico to serve as a foreign correspondent. Still only 21, she spent nearly half a year reporting the lives and customs of the Mexican people; her dispatches were later published in book form as Six Months in Mexico. In one report, she protested the imprisonment of a local journalist for criticizing the Mexican government, then a dictatorship under Porfirio Díaz. When Mexican authorities learned of Bly's report, they threatened her with arrest, prompting her to leave the country. Safely home, she denounced Díaz as a tyrannical czar suppressing the Mexican people and controlling the press.