100 articles – ‘Ten Days in a Mad-house’

15 September 2011

Written by: Lawrie Zion

Ten Days In A Mad-House’ by Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly (1864-1922), born Elizabeth Jane Cochran, was an American pioneer in investigative journalism. In an era when journalism was considered a ‘man’s world’, Bly went above and beyond what was expected in order to ‘get the story’.

She got her foot in the door of journalism when she wrote an furious response to an editorial titled ‘What Girls Are Good For’ in The Pittsburgh Dispatch (1885). This sparked her passion for social justice and women’s issues, and because of her passion, it enabled her to stand out against other journalists.

‘Ten Days In a Mad-House’ is one of Bly’s finest investigative journalism pieces. Feigning insanity, she not only tricked her friends and family, but also the doctors, and had herself committed to a New York women’s asylum. After being released ten days later, she began writing articles revealing the treatment of the mentally ill in asylums.

As a result of this article being published, investigations were launched and New York officials increased finance and improved the living conditions and treatment of patients.

Bly was groundbreaking with the lengths she went in order to reveal the social injustices in her time. She didn’t just write to tell a story, but she wrote to illuminate society’s problems so that changes could be made.

As she put it: ‘Energy rightly applied and directed will accomplish anything.’

Click here to access the piece as audio files.

Bethany Morris is a final-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University. You can follow her on Twitter @bethanyjae

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