Read this! No This! That’s Fake News! This is real news! Hashtag, tweet, retweet, post on social media! I suspect that both Amelia Bloomer and Nellie Bly are shaking their heads in the journalism-afterlife of how modern news is disseminated.
Amelia came first. Born as Amelia Jenks in 1818 in Homer, New York, Amelia did not set out to become a journalist. That very idea would have been laughed at in the early 1800s. Men wrote the news, men edited the news, men sold the news.
Amelia tried both teaching and being a governess before she met her future husband, Dexter Bloomer. After the wedding when the couple settled down in Seneca Falls, New York, her husband recognized that his young bride had a flair for writing. He encouraged her to write a few pieces for his New York newspaper, the Seneca Falls County Courier.
In 1848 Amelia attended the Seneca Falls Convention, which was the first women’s rights convention to be held in the United States. Convinced that women needed their own newspaper, where the news was not controlled by men, she began editing The Lily, the first American newspaper targeting a female audience. Published bi-weekly, the paper ran for four years starting first as a temperance journal, but quickly progressing to include a broad mix of articles.
The newspaper encountered financial difficulties and in 1850 Amelia took over the full demands of editing and publishing The Lily, and its financial debts, too.
Recipes were included on a sporadic basis, as well as articles on practical fashion. In 1851 activist Elizabeth Smith adopted a new ensemble which included long loose trousers worn under a short dress. The outfit was immediately worn by famous actress Fanny Kimble, then suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Amelia Bloomer. This was at a time in history when fashionable women were still expected to have an hourglass figure, accomplished by wearing incredibly restrictive corset. Think Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with The Wind. When the New York Tribune ran articles describing the new fashion that Amelia Bloomer was advocating as a freedom of reform for women, the newspaper referred to the garb as Bloomer Costumes. The name Bloomer stuck, even though Amelia eventually gave up wearing the ensemble.
What she did not give up was her passion for The Lily. She was the first American woman to own, operate, and edit a news service for women. At its height, The Lily had a circulation of over 4,000 readers.
Nellie Bly is the pen name of Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, born thirty years after Amelia.
At the age of 16, Elizabeth read a repulsive article in the Pittsburgh Dispatch entitled “What Girls Are Good For”. She dashed off an outraged rebuttal to the editor and signed it with a pseudonym. The editor, George Madden, was impressed with both the writing skills and the courage it took to write back. He advertised, asking the author to identify herself, and when she did, Madden promptly hired her. It was the start of Elizabeth’s journalism career and a pivotal point in her life when the editor asked her to write under the pen name of Nellie Bly.
In the beginning, Madden asked her to cover topics of women’s interest; food, fashions, taking care of the sick, etc. Nellie eventually asked to write about the controversial topics of the day like the treatment of the poor. Madden declined, so Nellie quit the paper and traveled in Mexico for two years, writing about the indigenous poor.
At age twenty-three she returned stateside and made her debut into investigative journalism when she posed as an insane person, and spent time in the infamous Blackwell Island Women’s Lunatic Asylum. Then she wrote an article on the atrocities she had witnessed. Joseph Pulitzer published her article in his newspaper, The New York World. The year was 1887.
Nellie continued her journalism career until her marriage, and later returned to it after she became a widow. In subsequent years she covered the Women’s Suffragette March of 1913 and the war events of WWI. She chose to write about issues that directly impacted women. Always on the lookout for topics that highlighted social injustice, especially those faced by women, Nellie Bly used her journalism career to bring about a public awareness of inequalities and injustices in American society.
Bravo to these two strong women who recognized early on, the power of the pen, and the responsibility of accurate reporting.
Thanks to Alma Brunner for suggesting this month’s blog.
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~ Linda ~