Feminism Is: Nellie Bly, whose writings gave voice to the voiceless

May 8, 2015

Anyone using Google this past Tuesday couldn’t help but notice the creative “Google Doodle” above the search box.  It honored the 151st birthday of Nellie Bly, an intrepid investigative reporter and social justice advocate born May 5, 1864.  If you missed the fast-moving “doodle” when it was posted, you can still enjoy this animated depiction of Bly’s life and hear Karen O singing her song commissioned by Google to go with it. See Emil Guillermo’s NBC news report, “Karen O Sings Google Doodle Tribute Song to Nellie Bly”   or watch it on YouTube.

And also take some time to read Hannah Keyser’s article  about how this fascinating woman became a journalist.  At age 20, Bly had become angry upon reading a newspaper article by a popular— but misogynistic— columnist. He claimed a woman in the workforce should be considered a “monstrosity” and said women should be confined to the home, performing domestic chores. He even wrote that cultures that permitted female infanticide might have the right idea. (Was this remark supposed to be a joke?)  To protest the columnist’s insensitive and insulting words, Nellie expressed her outrage in a letter to the newspaper and signed it “Lonely Orphan Girl.” The newspaper editor was so impressed with her writing that he put an ad in the paper asking “Lonely Orphan Girl” to come forward and reveal her identity.  Upon meeting her, he immediately hired her as a writer for the newspaper. The young woman, who had been born Elizabeth Jane Cochran, then took the pen name, Nellie Bly, from the spirited Stephen Foster song.

Nellie Bly developed a style of reporting we now know as investigative journalism, and she used it to expose corruption and social injustices of all kinds, always advocating for people living in poverty, mentally ill people in asylums, exploited workers, and other marginalized and disempowered people in various life circumstances. She spoke out firmly for gender equality and demonstrated her feminist philosophy throughout her life, including in her famous 72-day trip around the world without a chaperone— at a time when such a thing just wasn’t done!

The line from Karen O’s song, “We gotta speak up for the ones who’ve been told to shut up,” sums up Nellie Bly’s mission in life perfectly.  You can find out more about Nellie Bly in this article from the PBS program The American Experience.      



Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Letha Dawson Scanzoni (1935-2024) was an independent scholar, writer, and editor, and the author or coauthor of nine books. In 1978, she and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, one of the earliest books urging evangelical Christians to rethink their views on homosexuality (updated edition, 1994, HarperOne). More recently, Letha coauthored (with social psychologist David G. Myers) What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperOne, 2005 and 2006). Another of Letha’s most well-known books is All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, coauthored with Nancy A. Hardesty (Word Books, 1974; revised edition, Abingdon, 1986; updated and expanded edition, Eerdmans, 1992). Letha served as editor of Christian Feminism Today in both its former print edition (EEWC Update) and its website for 19 years until her retirement in December 2013.



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