Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in Pennsylvania in 1864, journalist Nellie Bly (she adopted the pen name because at the time, women reporters didn’t use their real names) moved to New York in 1887.
Broke but brave, the 23-year-old convinced New York World editors to let her investigate conditions at the city lunatic asylum on Blackwell’s Island, now Roosevelt Island.
In a subsequent series of articles, she reported that the food was inedible, nurses often picked on and physically abused residents, and that many were sane but either couldn’t speak English or were left there by husbands who didn’t want them. And doctors couldn’t care less.
“The insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island is a human rat trap,” she wrote. “It is easy to get in, but once there it is impossible to get out.”
Bly later published her articles in a book, Ten Days in a Mad-House. The asylum, with its famous (and still existent) circa-1830s octagon tower, was closed. Mentally ill New Yorkers were then sent to a new facility on nearby Ward’s Island.
Bly became a sensation, embarking on an international career as a journalist. She died in 1922 and is buried in the Bronx’s Woodlawn Cemetery.
Tags: Blackwell's Island, Blackwell's Island Lunatic Asylum, Elizabeth Jane Cochran, Nellie Bly, New York World, Octagon Roosevelt Island, Roosevelt Island, Ten Days in a Mad-House, Women's Lunatic Asylum New York City, Woodlawn Cemetery famous residents