The May 5 Google Doodle celebrates the amazing life of feminist journalist Nellie Bly on what would have been her 151st birthday. Bly was so much more than a feminist writer, she was an inventor and political activist, before her death from pneumonia in New York City in 1922 at the age of 57. The music in the background of the above video was created by Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Famously, She Emulated Phileas Fogg’s Trip Around the World
Bly, a native of Pittsburgh who relocated to New York City to further her journalism career, took her famed trip around the world in 1889. The trip was the idea of Bly’s editor at the New York World. He wanted to turn Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days into reality. She left on November 14, 1889, and after visiting a leper colony in China and buying a monkey in Singapore, Bly landed back in San Francisco on January 21, 72 days after she first set off. Her newspaper sent a private train for her to return to the north east, by January 25 she was back in New York City. During her trip, while in Amiens, France, she met Jules Verne. Her record was bested in 1890 when George Francis Train did the trip in 67 days.
2. She Successfully Convinced a Group of Doctors She Was Insane, So She Could Go Undercover in an Asylum
Prior to her trip around the world, and at the behest of Joseph Pulitzer, Bly successfully convinced a group of psychiatrists that she was insane. It was all for the purposes of recording the conditions of insane asylums at the time. She spent just one night practicing mannerisms before being committed in 1887. One psychiatrist who examined her declared her to be “positively demented.” While there, she felt that several of the patients were not insane, Bly witnessed other patients being abused by staff and experienced the rotten food being served. After ten days, the New York World pulled her out of the facility. The revelation that she had been faking led to a massive overhaul of the system and saw the budget for such asylums increased dramatically. The work she created after her time became a book entitled Ten Days in a Mad-House.
3. When She Was 31, She Married 73-Year-Old Millionaire Tycoon Robert Seaman
She retired from journalism at the age of 31 to marry 73-year-old magnate Robert Seaman. He owned the Ironclad Manufacturing Company and appointed his wife CEO soon after their nuptials in 1895. He died less than ten years later in 1904. Embezzlement from several of the employees at the company left his fortune diminished and Bly was forced back into writing.
4. She Helped Invent the Modern Oil Drum Which Is Still Used Today
While she worked for Iron Clad, Bly oversaw the development of the modern oil drum which is still used today. The actual prototype was created by Henry Wehrhahn. Two of her other patents were the milk can and the stacking garbage can. For both of those patents, she used her legal name Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman. After her return to journalism, she was at the forefront of covering the battle for woman’s suffrage and even covered the early days of World War One.
5. There’s a Movie Slated for a 2015 Release Depicting Her Life
In 2015, another depiction of Bly’s life will be released with a movie version of 10 Days in a Madhouse. The film star Caroline Barry as Bly. Also starring is 1980s icon Kelly LeBrock. Coincidentally, given the subject matter, the movie was filmed in Salem, Oregon, the same location that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was set. It will debut at Geena Davis’ feminist film festival, Bentonville, later this year.
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