The Women Behind the Newspaper

Ever since I read the biography on Nellie Bly when I was in elementary school, I have been inspired by women reporters.

Elizabeth Jane Cochran wrote for newspapers under the pen name Nellie Bly, and strove to write investigative stories calling for reform of various institutions. However, the newspaper who first hired her, continued to assign her to stories about flower shows and fashion. Nellie fought against these assignments, and traveled to Mexico to write as a foreign correspondent about the every day lives of Mexican people. When she returned to the United States, her Pittsburgh editor went back to his old ways and assigned her to the woman’s page once again.

She left Pittsburgh for New York City, and in her first reporting job for the “New York World,” she impersonated a mad woman to gain entrance to an institution for the mentally ill on Blackwell’s island. Her stories not only brought reform to institutions such as these, but they also pioneered undercover investigative reporting. During her years as a reporter, she continued to expose corruption and injustice, bringing about reform.

It is no surprise, then, that as a teenager I began to follow “Brenda Starr, Reporter” every Sunday in the comics section. Not only did Brenda follow hot leads and travel the world, but her romance with Basil St. John captivated me. Since 1985, real life Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich, along with illustrators Ramona Fradon and June Brigman, wrote the story lines for Brenda Starr. I was so sad when Brenda Starr ended this year, but the ending was fitting. Brenda retires from the paper and walks into the sunset, with a box containing a black orchid and a card with the initials “BSJ”.

Since I have started writing a blog, I look up to certain newspaper columnists whose columns I read regularly. Barbara Brotman frequently writes about everyday topics in an engaging way. It is still a mystery to me how good columnists think of such great stories almost daily that are worthy of publication.

What women writers inspire you?

You can read Barbara Brotman’s column from today here: Do you unplug from your music when you encounter a friend? –

Find out more about Nellie Bly at my source, Read Nellie Bly’s Ten Days in a Mad-House.

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6 Replies to “The Women Behind the Newspaper”

  1. You inspire me! How do you think of so many ideas for your blog? If I didn't have baking, I don't know what I'd write about! 🙂

  2. I admire investigative reporters in general, they're just so gutsy.I think as a Canadian I'm obliged to say that Margaret Atwood inspires me, but there are tons. There is a local writer who writes very good crime mysteries (set in local places) who I admire not because her novels are ambitious or groundbreaking, but because she was brave enough to maintain a prairie setting and because she makes a decent living at it.

  3. Thank you, up until now I had never heard of Nellie Bly, but she definitely sounds like someone to admire. She has officially gone on my "must research when the kids are otherwise occupied" list.

  4. I've heard of Nellie Bly, but never knew who she was exactly until now! I always liked the writing of Anne Lamott.

  5. I've wondered that too. How in the world do people constantly have ideas that can be expanded into these long articles and columns. Nellie Bly is new to me too.

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