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Journalist Nellie Bly's Life And Legacy Celebrated During Virtual Pittsburgh Event

Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Nellie Bly posing for a publicity shot for The World, wearing her traveling gown and holding her handbag, Feb. 21, 1890.

The life of pioneering journalist Nellie Bly will be celebrated during a virtual program Thursday evening.

“Trailblazing Women in Journalism: The Legacy of Nellie Bly” is a partnership between the Heinz History Center and Women’s Press Club of Pittsburgh.

Bly was born in Apollo, Pa., about 35 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, in 1864. She’s best known for her record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days, following the fictional character’s journey in Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days.” 

“It takes a certain amount of ability to put yourself out there and to ask questions of all kinds of different people, to be able to relate to all kinds of different people,” said Stacey Federoff, president of the Women’s Press Club of Pittsburgh. “And so to think about her doing it in such a different time where there weren't as many women who had taken that path already.” 

The History Center has produced a virtual program that tracks Bly’s trip. 

Federoff said Bly had a big influence on investigative journalism, having once spent 10 days pretending to be mentally ill and admitting herself into an asylum.

“That was something that was never done before,” Federoff said. Her book, “Ten Days in a Mad-House”, exposed the brutal treatment of patients at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on New York City’s Blackwell’s Island. 

Thursday’s event will include a presentation on Bly’s accomplishments, as well as a lecture from Dr. Candi Carter Olson, who, in 2013, wrote about the history of the Press Club, which celebrates its130th anniversary this year. She’s now a faculty member at Utah State University.

“She took the time to interview a lot of the older members of the club and to get the oral histories in addition to the current members of the club at the time,” Federoff said. “[She] was able to really present a picture of why it's important … for women in journalism to be a part of the Women's Press Club.”

During the program, an actor will portray Nellie Bly and accept an honorary membership to the Press Club. The event is free, but registration is required

Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community.