Welcome to the latest show notes for Eccentric Earth, where I will include the research for each episode (essentially my script), along with a number of photographs and documents.
Episode 06 - Elizabeth Cochrane
Elizabeth Jane Cochran was born on May 5, 1864 at Cochran Mills now part of the Pittsburgh suburb of Burrell Township, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania.
Her father, Michael Cochran, born about 1810, started out as a laborer and mill worker before buying the local mill and most of the land surrounding his family farmhouse. He later became a merchant, postmaster, and associate justice at Cochran's Mills (which was named after him) in Pennsylvania. Michael married twice. He had 10 children with his first wife, Catherine Murphy, and 5 more children, including Elizabeth, with his second wife, Mary Jane Kennedy.
As a young girl Elizabeth often was called 'Pinky' because she so frequently wore that colour. As she became a teenager she wanted to portray herself as more sophisticated, and so dropped the nickname and changed her surname to 'Cochrane'. Michael Cochran's death presented a grave financial detriment to his family, as he left them without a will, and, thus, no legal claim to his estate.
|Indiana Normal School, Pennsylvania.|
In an effort to support her now-single mother, Elizabeth enrolled at the Indiana Normal School, a small college in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where she studied to become a teacher. However, not long after beginning her courses there, financial constraints forced Elizabeth to table her hopes for a higher education. After leaving the school, she moved with her mother to the nearby city of Pittsburgh, in 1880, where, together, they ran a boarding house.
A newspaper column entitled 'What Girls Are Good For' in the Pittsburgh Dispatch that implied that girls were only good for birthing children and keeping house prompted Elizabeth to write a response under the pseudonym "Lonely Orphan Girl".
The editor, George Madden, was impressed with her passion and ran an advertisement asking the author to identify herself. When Cochrane introduced herself to the editor, he offered her the opportunity to write a piece for the newspaper, again under the pseudonym 'Lonely Orphan Girl'.
Her first article for the Dispatch, entitled 'The Girl Puzzle', was about how divorce affected women. In it, she argued for reform of divorce laws.Madden was impressed again and offered her a full-time job.
It was customary for women who were newspaper writers at that time to use pen names. The editor chose 'Nellie Bly', adopted from the title character in the popular song 'Nelly Bly' by Stephen Foster.
As a writer, Elizabeth focused her early work for the Pittsburgh Dispatch on the lives of working women, writing a series of investigative articles on women factory workers. However, the newspaper soon received complaints from factory owners about her writing, and she was reassigned to 'women's pages' to cover fashion, society, and gardening, the usual role for women journalists, and she became dissatisfied.
She then traveled to Mexico to serve as a foreign correspondent. Still only 21, she spent nearly half a year reporting the lives and customs of the Mexican people; her dispatches later were published in book form as Six Months in Mexico.
In one report, she protested the imprisonment of a local journalist for criticizing the Mexican government, then a dictatorship under Porfirio Díaz. When Mexican authorities learned of Elizabeht’s report, they threatened her with arrest, prompting her to flee the country. Safely home, she accused Díaz of being a tyrannical czar suppressing the Mexican people and controlling the press.
Burdened again with theater and arts reporting, Bly left the Pittsburgh Dispatch in 1887 for New York City. Penniless after four months, she talked her way into the offices of Joseph Pulitzer's newspaper the New York World, and took an undercover assignment for which she agreed to feign insanity to investigate reports of brutality and neglect at the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island.
After a night spent practicing expressions in front of a mirror, she checked into a boardinghouse. She refused to go to bed, telling the boarders that she was afraid of them and that they looked "crazy." They soon decided that she was "crazy," and the next morning summoned the police. Taken to a courtroom, she claimed to have amnesia. The judge concluded she had been drugged.
Several doctors then examined her; all declared her insane. "Positively demented," said one, "I consider it a hopeless case. She needs to be put where someone will take care of her." The head of the insane pavilion at Bellevue Hospital pronounced her "undoubtedly insane". The case of the "pretty crazy girl" attracted media attention: "Who Is This Insane Girl?" asked the New York Sun. The New York Times wrote of the "mysterious waif" with the "wild, haunted look in her eyes" and her desperate cry: "I can't remember I can't remember."
|Blackwell's Island Insane Asylum.|
Committed to the asylum, Bly experienced the deplorable conditions firsthand. The food consisted of gruel broth, spoiled beef, bread that was little more than dried dough, and dirty undrinkable water. The dangerous patients were tied together with ropes. The patients were made to sit for much of each day on hard benches with scant protection from the cold. Waste was all around the eating places. Rats crawled all around the hospital. The bathwater was frigid and buckets of it were poured over their heads. The nurses behaved obnoxiously and abusively, telling the patients to shut up, and beating them if they did not. Speaking with her fellow patients, Elizabeth was convinced that some were as "sane" as she was. On the effect of her experiences, she wrote:
What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment? Here is a class of women sent to be cured. I would like the expert physicians who are condemning me for my action, which has proven their ability, to take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would make her a mental and physical wreck.
After ten days, the asylum released Bly at The World's behest. Her report, later published in book form as Ten Days in a Mad-House, caused a sensation, prompted the asylum to implement reforms, and brought her lasting fame.
Led by New York Assistant District Attorney Vernon M. Davis, with Elizabeth assisting, the asylum investigation resulted in a number of changes in New York City's Department of Public Charities and Corrections (later split into separate agencies, the Department of Correction and the Department of Public Charities), which oversees the city's hospitals; these changes (per the recommendations of jury members in 1888) included a larger appropriation of funds for the care of mentally ill patients, additional physician appointments for stronger supervision of nurses and other health-care workers, and regulations to prevent overcrowding and fire hazards at the city's medical facilities.
Elizabeth followed her Blackwell's exposé with similar investigative work, including editorials detailing the improper treatment of individuals in New York jails and factories, corruption in the state legislature and other first-hand accounts of malfeasance. She also interviewed and wrote pieces on several prominent figures of the time, including the likes of Emma Goldman and Susan B. Anthony.
|Elizabeth's route, as published in The World.|
In 1888 Elizabeth suggested to her editor at the New York World that she take a trip around the world, attempting to turn the fictional Around the World in Eighty Days into fact for the first time. A year later, at 9:40 a.m. on November 14, 1889, and with two days' notice, she boarded the Augusta Victoria, a steamer of the Hamburg America Line, and began her journey.
She took with her the dress she was wearing, a sturdy overcoat, several changes of underwear, and a small travel bag carrying her toiletry essentials. She carried most of her money (£200 in English bank notes and gold, as well as some American currency) in a bag tied around her neck.
The New York newspaper Cosmopolitan sponsored its own reporter, Elizabeth Bisland, to beat the time of both Phileas Fogg and Elizabeth. Bisland would travel the opposite way around the world, starting on the same day as Elizabeth took off. To sustain interest in the story, the World organized a "Nellie Bly Guessing Match" in which readers were asked to estimate Elizabet’s arrival time to the second, with the Grand Prize consisting at first of a free trip to Europe and, later on, spending money for the trip.
During her travels around the world, Elizabeth went through England, France (where she met Jules Verne in Amiens), Brindisi, the Suez Canal, Colombo, the Straits Settlements of Penang and Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan. The development of efficient submarine cable networks and the electric telegraph allowed Elizabeth to send short progress reports, although longer dispatches had to travel by regular post and thus were often delayed by several weeks.
Elizabeth travelled using steamships and the existing railroad systems, which caused occasional setbacks, particularly on the Asian leg of her race. During these stops, she visited a leper colony in China and, in Singapore, she bought a monkey.
|Elizabeth reaches the United States.|
As a result of rough weather on her Pacific crossing, she arrived in San Francisco on the White Star Line ship RMS Oceanic on January 21, two days behind schedule. However, after World owner Pulitzer chartered a private train to bring her home, she arrived back in New Jersey on January 25, 1890, at 3:51 pm.
Just over seventy-two days after her departure from Hoboken, Elizabeth was back in New York. She had circumnavigated the globe, traveling alone for almost the entire journey. Bisland was, at the time, still crossing the Atlantic, only to arrive in New York four and a half days later. She also had missed a connection and had to board a slow, old ship (the Bothnia) in the place of a fast ship (Etruria). Elizabeth’s journey was a world record.
In 1895, Elizabeth married millionaire manufacturer Robert Seaman. Elizabeth was 31 and Seaman was 73 when they married. Due to her husband's failing health, she retired from journalism and succeeded her husband as head of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co., which made steel containers such as milk cans and boilers.
|Elizabeth takes over Iron Clad Manufacturing.|
Elizabeth was also an inventor, receiving U.S. Patent 697,553 for a novel milk can and U.S. Patent 703,711 for a stacking garbage can, both under her married name of Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman.
While in charge of the company, Elizabeth put her social reforms into action and Iron Clad employees enjoyed several perks unheard of at the time: fitness gyms, libraries and healthcare. Ultimately, the costs of these benefits began to mount and drain her inheritance.
For a time she was one of the leading women industrialists in the United States, but negligence and embezzlement by a factory manager resulted in the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co. going bankrupt.
|Elizabeth in the later years of her life.|
Returning to reporting, she wrote stories on Europe's Eastern Front during World War I and notably covered the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913. Under the headline "Suffragists Are Men's Superiors", her parade story accurately predicted that it would be 1920 before women in the United States would be given the right to vote.
Elizabeth died of pneumonia at St. Mark's Hospital in New York City in 1922, just two years after returning to journalism, at age 57. She was interred in a modest grave at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.
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