Nellie Bly, Ten Days in a Mad-House

Changemaker Spotlight: Meet Nellie Bly, The Best Reporter in America

Are you familiar with the name Nellie Bly? I’ve mentioned before that Nellie Bly is pretty important to Ruth in her third installment. Today I want to explain why. So, who was Nellie Bly?

Nellie Bly was born Elizabeth Jane Cochron on May 5th, 1864. Her father was quite wealthy and owned a mill in Pennsylvania. However, when Bly was six, her father died suddenly without a will. Unable to maintain their estate, they left the area and Bly’s mother remarried. She unfortunately divorced in 1878 due to abuse.

By the time Bly was 15, the family’s struggles had increased. Bly had been in and out of schools as the family moved around. They finally settled in Pittsburgh and Bly began to look for work to help support the family. Unfortunately due to her lack of regular education and her gender, work was hard to find. 

Around that time, The Pittsburgh Dispatch published an article criticizing women in the workforce. Fed up, Bly penned a letter to the editor in response. She called for more opportunities for women, especially those responsible for the well-being of their families. The editor saw potential in her piece and invited her to work at the Dispatch as a reporter. She used the pen name Nellie Bly which she took from a well-known song at the time. 

Bly quickly became a popular columnist, but was limited to only writing pieces that addressed women and soon quit in frustration. Wanting to write about more serious topics, Bly began searching for a newspaper that wouldn’t pigeon-hole her. 

Nellie Bly

“While I live, I hope” – Nellie Bly

She moved to New York City in 1886 and soon famously stormed the office of the New York World demanding to speak to Joseph Pulitzer. She offered him a story about the immigrant experience. Pulitzer declined that story, but challenged her to investigate one of New York’s worst mental asylums, Blackwell’s Island. Bly not only accepted the assignment, she decided to pretend to have a mental illness to get herself admitted and experience firsthand how the patients were treated. With this assignment Bly became one of the most famous reporters in history.

Bly’s Ten Days in the Madhouse shocked the public and led to massive overhauls of the institution. In addition, her hands-on approach to reporting led to a new practice called investigative journalism. She continued to expose problems in New York society like mistreatment of domestic workers, a black market for buying infants, and corruption in state legislature. She captivated the public.

Her career hit a new high in 1889 when she decided to travel the world after reading Jules Verne’s popular novel, Around the World in 80 Days. The New York World published daily updates of her journey and she completed her travels in 72 days, a world record at the time.

Bly continued to publish influential pieces and interviewed some of the top labor rights activists, politicians and writers of her time. She then married at the age of thirty and retired from journalism. 

A New Chapter in the Nellie Bly Story

Her husband died in 1903, leaving her in charge of his massive manufacturing companies. She became an inventor, patenting a number of products to enhance worker productivity in the oil industry, many of which are still used today. She also prioritized worker’s welfare, offering benefits and insurance. Unfortunately, Bly was not great with handling the financial side of the businesses and eventually had to declare bankruptcy.

She returned to journalism during WWI, again reporting on a number of impactful issues. Bly’s story ends soon after the war when she died from pneumonia in 1922. She was remembered in tributes by many as the “best reporter in America.”

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Women Rights Movement

Women’s Right Convention & The Women Who Risked it All

July 19th and 20th of this year mark the 175th Anniversary of the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls!

For those not familiar, this historic two day convention was the first event to focus on “the social, civil and religious condition and rights of women.” About three hundred women attended and after two days of discussion, they drafted the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions. This document described the ways in which the laws of their time failed women. They failed to protect their rights, their safety and their potential. Their proposed solution was calling for the woman’s right to vote. 

This was the official launch to the women’s rights and suffrage movements. Sadly, it took seventy years for women to actually be granted this right and few got to ever celebrate or see the fruit of their labors. But there was at least one woman, Rhoda Palmer, who at 102 cast her first ballot in the 1918 New York State election.

Women's Right Convention

It’s amazing how second nature and even taken for granted voting seems today. I’m guilty myself of not voting in every election. It’s just a small one. There’s no candidate I care for, etc. But, to think of the blood, sweat and tears so many put in to grant us this simple privilege, I know I should do better. 

As we head into what appears to be another contentious election season, let us remember these courageous people from our past. And let us most importantly remember, even one vote can make a difference. Let your voice be heard!

Are you currently registered to vote? REGISTER TODAY!

For more information about the Seneca Falls Convention and to really get a clear picture of the attendees and the risks they took to attend the convention that day– take a look at this keynote speech from the 150th anniversary.

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Education for Women

How an Education Bill Changed the Story for Women

Trekking down a paved path: Education for Women

Do you have women in your family who have gone to college? What about any doctors, lawyers or other ceiling busting women? If so, you have Representative Patsy Takemoto Mink to thank.

Fifty-one years ago, Rep. Mink authored a bill and got Congress to pass this landmark piece of legislation. The Title IX of Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in educational institutions and programs that receive federal funding. 

Education Reform

This legislation was groundbreaking for a number of reasons. For the first time women were entitled to an equal education on every level. No more could colleges turn away women from entering particular programs of study!

It also paved the way for sex equity in school sports and other school sponsored extracurricular activities. 

Ultimately, The bill was renamed the Patsy Takemoto Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act in 2002 to honor her contributions to civil rights, and economic and social justice.

An interview with Rep. Mink in 2002 shared her personal motivations for authoring the bill.

“I have a very personal connection with Title IX because while I was wanting to go to medical school and I had written to a dozen or more medical schools to seek entry, each one of them turned me down by saying that they did not admit women to their schools. It came to me as quite a shock that in America it was not a person’s grade, aptitude, tests, recommendations that got the person into the careers of their choice, but that it had to do with one’s gender.”

Luckily, we have come far from those ceiling-inhibiting days. What is something you’re grateful you were able to accomplish as a woman in your lifetime that your mother could not?

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Rosie the game changer

Rosie the Riveter Turns Eighty!

Rosie the Riveter

On May 29th, 1943, the Saturday Evening Post published a cover image that changed history forever. It was an image by Norman Rockwell, portraying “Rosie” with a flag in the background. 

Overnight, this image became iconic. It showed up everywhere– at movie theaters, posters, newspapers, etc. Rosie the Riveter was everywhere– and society would never be the same again. 

When we think back on women’s history, WWII and Rosie the Riveter offer a clear dividing line. There were women in the workforce before WWII, but they were definitely in the minority and the idea of a woman working after marriage was unheard of.

But America entered the war and workforce rules changed. 

Suddenly, it was patriotic for women to work! American women entered the workforce in droves. Between 1940-1945, the female percentage of the U.S. workforce rose from 27 to nearly 37%. And by 1945, one out of every four married women worked outside the home.

Then the war ended and America entered its identity crisis. The intent behind the Rosie the Riveter campaign was for it to be a temporary fix, “patriotic” women filling the gaps while the men were away. They were supposed to happily return to their homes when the men returned. However, what was not considered was how societal roles had changed forever.

For starters, how could men ever claim superiority again after witnessing these women’s selfless efforts and demonstrations of their strength and capability? Also after tasting freedom and thriving in their new jobs, many women were rightfully unhappy about returning to their former lives at home. 

We all know progress is slow. And major societal change especially takes time. But I do want to examine how far women have come since that famous picture debuted.

This postwar era required an entire reshuffling of identity and viewpoints. For those of you who watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the latest episode hits on this point perfectly. 

The father, Abe, goes out to dinner with a group of other men. While there he admits to having an identity crisis and questioning everything he’d thought he’d known for his entire life. The men go around the table trying to pinpoint what Abe is feeling. They offer theories about change and how fast the world has changed in their recent years. How it’s natural to feel overwhelmed etc. 

Finally, Abe offers up that it’s about his daughter. He admits that everything he thought he knew about women and his expectations of them is wrong. He’d pinned all his hopes and expectations on his son and later his grandson. He brought the son to Columbia to watch him teach, never even thought to do that for his daughter. Same with his grandson, putting all his efforts in tapping into his early potential. And yet now? His daughter owns the apartment he lives in. Her husband abandoned her and she was the one who fought her way up to thrive. She’s in a difficult profession and yet, she’s mastering it. All of this is without any help from him or her mother. And his granddaughter is the grandchild showing the early signs of genius talent. He realizes he majorly undersold their potential and capabilities. He closes by admitting his daughter is truly remarkable.

“Rosie” is eighty years old this year. Eighty- that’s one lifetime. And in that one lifetime we’ve seen expectations for women go from telling our daughters their only role in life was to cook and keep house to saying they can be whatever they want. If they can dream it and work hard, they can make it happen. We now have a woman Vice President, congresswomen, pilots, astronauts, judges, entrepreneurs, scientists– you name it, they’re doing it! 

“Rosie” might have been a campaign born out of necessity, but she changed the rules to the game. For that, I’m forever grateful. Let’s see where another eighty years of remarkable women can take us!

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Female empowerment for our daughters

22 Years of “Take Our Daughters to Work Day”

Why was this day created and how has it evolved over time?

Take Our Daughters to Work day began in 1992 by Gloria Steinem as a project of the Ms. Foundation. It was created to show girls that being smart was something to be proud of and not something to hide. By providing girls with real-life models in the workplace, the hope was to offer something for girls to strive to achieve themselves. Gender did not have to hold them back from a desired profession.

Parade Magazine wrote about the program and by 1993 the Take Your Daughter to Work Day Foundation was formed to help expand the program nationally and internationally. 

From Female Empowerment to Breaking Gender Stereotypes

In 2003, the program expanded to include boys. And while many criticized this, wasn’t the point to increase female empowerment? The Foundation argued that the expansion would only make the program stronger. It would allow for the dissolution of gender stereotypes completely. For instance, shouldn’t a boy be told he’s allowed to be a nurse?

Our daughters glass ceiling

Since then the program has continued to evolve. It’s now an April tradition, with worldwide participation. It purposefully takes place during the school year so educators can incorporate it into their lessons, drawing from real world experiences. There have even been purposeful strides in reaching out to low-income communities to find ways for children there to participate as well.

Are we empowering our daughters?

All of this is fantastic. And I am grateful for these opportunities and lessons for our next generation of workers. However, it’s interesting to see the original intent behind the day and how it has changed over time. I love the idea of breaking gender stereotypes and teaching children they can follow any career path that interests them.

However, I do not feel our job is completely done in empowering girls to thrive in the workplace. If the realities of the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that women still shoulder the bulk of the burden when it comes to childcare and home management in addition to their jobs. Women are still the default parent who gets the phone call from school. They are still usually the one who needs to stay home with a sick child. They carry the bulk of the emotional labor, scheduling dentist appointments, replacing outgrown clothing, chauffeuring, etc.

“Take our Daughters to Work” Starts at Home

We can most definitely tell our girls they can aim for any career path they want. But they are still seeing their mothers carry an unsustainable workload each day and battling burnout. What is the answer to that? It’s complicated, I know. But until that balance is shifted, our girls will unfortunately always hit a ceiling.

We have come a long way from the balance of parenthood from the past. I applaud that men have made major strides in division of responsibilities at home and child rearing. But we, as a society, can still do better.So, parents, instead of just taking your child to work. Consider what you model for them each day. Are you demonstrating an imbalanced division of labor in the home? Are you making sure one parent isn’t burning out from an overloaded plate? The daily application they witness are the lessons your children will carry. Empower your daughters to speak up, negotiate in all areas of their lives and thrive.

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Black Female Freedom Fighters

Black Female Freedom Fighters

Let’s honor some of the courageous women who fought for civil rights!

Black Female Freedom Fighters

Black Female Freedom Fighters

In honor of MLK Day, I wanted to write about the fight for civil rights and equality. But as so many things in history, I feel there is a lack of acknowledgement for some of the amazing women who contributed to this fight. So today, let’s shine a light on some amazing Black Female Freedom Fighters!

Septima Clark

Septima Clark was a public school teacher in South Carolina for thirty years. She was forced to relinquish her position in 1956 when she refused to renounce her involvement with the NAACP.

Believing literacy to be the key to political empowerment, she went on to set up workshops to teach others basic literacy skills, the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens and how to fill out voter registration forms.

She continued teaching and advocating for civil responsibilities for the rest of her life. She taught and developed curriculum at key places like the Highlander Folk School for social advocacy, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the American Field Service.

In 1975, she was elected to the South Carolina School Board. She received a letter of apology the following year from the South Carolina governor and got her pension reinstated.

In 1979, she was recognized by President Jimmy Carter and given a Living Legacy Award and published an autobiography about her involvement and journey with the Civil Rights Movement. You can check it out below!

Amelia Boynton Robinson

Amelia Boynton Robinson was an activist leader in the American Civil Rights Movement. She was a key figure in the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965. She was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Medal in 1990.

Boynton began her activism in 1934 when she registered to vote, a difficult task in Alabama at the time. A few years later she wrote a play called Through the Years, that recounted her father’s half-brother’s story. He had been a former slave who was elected to Congress during the Reconstruction Era.

In 1958, her son was arrested for attempting to buy food from a white food counter in a bus terminal. He was found guilty of a misdemeanor in the state court and fined. A current law student at Howard University, he appealed the decision and unfortunately lost until the case (Boynton vs. Virginia) eventually went to the Supreme Court and was reversed by Thurgood Marshall.

In 1964 Boynton ran for Congress hoping to encourage black registration and voting. She was the first female African American to run for office in Alabama and the first woman of any race to run on the Democratic Party ticket for the state. She received 10% of the vote.

In 1965 Boynton began working with Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders to plan demonstrations for voting and civil rights. She helped organize a march to Montgomery which took place on March 7th, 1965. The event became known as Bloody Sunday when police stopped and beat the demonstrators. Boynton was beaten unconscious, a photo of her lying on Edmund Pettus Bridge went around the world and is still one of the most famous photographs from the march today.

To learn more about Boynton read one of the books below- including her own Bridge Across Jordon!

Nine More Amazing Black Female Freedom Fighters

Are you familiar with Leah Chase or Dr. June Jackson Christmas? What about Aileen Hernandez or Diane Nash? Sadly, they along with Judy Richardson, Kathleen Cleaver, Gay McDougall, Gloria Richardson, and Myrlie Evers have been mostly left out of the history books. Until now!

Nominated for a 50th NAACP IMAGE Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Debut Author, Lighting the Fires of Freedom is a MUST Read to learn more about overlooked women from the Civil Rights Movement.

Janet Dewart Bell put together these women’s stories from collections of oral narratives and photographs. Each of these women answered the call to fight for freedom with passion, courage, and persistence.

If you’re interested in getting a close look at the women who were on the front lines during this movement- you need to read Bell’s book!

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