Recommended for ages 12+
In 1887, a 23 year-old woman decided to show her newspaper editor that she had the chops to write more captivating stories than the latest hat and dress styles of the season. Elizabeth Jane “Pink” Cochran, who went by the pen name Nellie Bly, managed to convince a battery of bystanders, doctors, and nurses that she needed to be admitted to Blackwell’s Island, home of an infamous insane asylum, so that she could write an exposé. Sure enough, she was admitted and spent 10 horrific days in the asylum, where she later wrote about the mistreatment she received and witnessed other patients endure. Her career, so she thought, was made.
Ten Days a Madwoman is a biography on Cochran and her investigative journalism. The Blackwell’s Island piece inspired other women to pursue “stunt journalism”, where they would take on often outrageous stunts like boxing the famed Gentleman Jim Corbett, rescuing a child from a burning building, or jumping in front of a trolley car. Bly worked hard at her journalism and championing women and children in particular, but struggled throughout her career with the idea of women being taken seriously as journalists. When she decided to travel around the world in 80 Days, hoping to beat the fictional record set by Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days character, Phileas Fogg, a rival newspaper sent their female reporter on the same trip, setting up a race between the two. (Bly beat her rival and Fogg: she completed her trip in 72 days.)
Noyes explores Bly’s professional and personal life, focusing on her desire to care for her family and attain financial security in addition to gaining professional respect. Pictures and reprinted documents, with additional profiles of people, places, and events influencing or influenced by Bly, round out this must-read biography on a woman whose career may be overlooked in this age of Twitter and 24-hour news, when hard-hitting journalism tends to take a back seat to pop culture.
Ten Days a Madwoman has already received a starred School Library Journal review and includes a rich bibliography, source notes, and index. An important addition to any collection, and a great Women’s History Month spotlight.
Deborah Noyes is an award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction for children and adults. Her author webpage offers more information about her books and links to her social media. Check out an excerpt here!