When I was in elementary school, the highlight of my week was the Scholastic Books flyer. My mom let me pick ONE book each week, which was always a source of much internal debate. Not many of those books have stuck with me all these years, but one that did was a biography of Nellie Bly.
Nellie Bly was a small-town girl (like me!) who became independent by writing for newspapers in a time when women were barely allowed out of the house unescorted. She was one of the original immersion journalists, placing herself in the heart of a story to discover its truth.
One of her first adventures was to have herself committed to the Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. After ten days there, she wrote a pair of scathing articles about the treatment of women, many of whom had been committed because they were headstrong, difficult for their male relatives to control, or did not speak good enough English to prove their sanity. As a child who’d never encounted the concept of mental illness before — to say nothing of the implication that doctors weren’t always right — it was a bombshell.
Nellie beat Jules Verne’s novel by traveling around the world in 72 days, an amazing feat in 1889, before there were airplanes or motorized vehicles. That a woman should do it…I was inspired for life.