Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Elizabeth Jane Cochran . . . you know her by a different name

There was a time when Elizabeth Jane Cochran, who was born on this date in 1864, was world-famous. Nowadays, many of us probably recognize her pen name, but we’re not sure why.

Nellie Bly lived only 57 years, but she packed an awful lot into that relatively short span, starting with her career as a crusading journalist.

As a young woman living in Pittsburgh with her mother, Bly wrote a letter to the Pittsburgh Dispatch, complaining about a sexist column that had appeared in the newspaper. The paper gave her a job as a reporter and assigned her the pen name of Nellie Bly, from a song by Stephen Foster.

A biography of Bly on the web site of the PBS series American Experience says she initially wrote about poor working girls and the need to reform Pennsylvania’s divorce laws, but the editors reassigned her to cover flower shows and fashion. Bly convinced her bosses to send her to Mexico as a foreign correspondent, but when she returned to the paper they stuck her on the women's page once again.

Bly headed to New York, and after spending six months looking for work, she walked into the office of John Cockerill, managing editor of Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World.

“In what was either a bold challenge or a veiled brush off, he asked that she write a story about the mentally ill housed at a large institution in New York City,” according to the American Experience web site. “She did, impersonating a mad person, and came back from Blackwell's Island 10 days later with stories of cruel beatings, ice cold baths and forced meals that included rancid butter.”

Her story “stirred the public and politicians and brought money and needed reforms to the institution,” the web site reports. It also marked the introduction of  “a new kind of undercover, investigative journalism.”

Bly went on to write about corruption, poverty, shady lobbyists and the improper treatment of female prisoners. When she went to Chicago in 1894 to cover a railroad strike, she was “the only reporter who told of the strike from the perspective of the strikers.” As her fame grew, she profiled boxer John L. Sullivan, suffragist Susan B. Anthony, and anarchist Emma Goldman.

As if that wasn’t enough for one lifetime, Bly’s greatest dance with celebrity was yet to come.

In 1889, while still in her 20s, Bly set out by ship, train and burro to circle the globe, with the goal of beating the fictional Phileas Fogg, the protagonist of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, which was first published in the 1870s. She met Verne at one stop along the way; completed the trip in 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes; and was greeted by cheering crowds when she returned to New York.

At 30, Bly married a 70-year-old industrialist and ran the business after he died. When it went bankrupt, she returned to journalism. Bly was working for the New York Journal when she died of pneumonia in 1922.

How many centenarians can claim to have lived as full a life in 100 years as Bly did in 57?

And now, a few words from . . . Andy Rooney


It's paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn't appeal to anyone.

Editorial cartoonists: keeping the legacy of Thomas Nast alive

by Mike Luckovich

Monday, May 4, 2015

May 4, 1970 . . . four dead in Ohio

It was 45 years ago today that members of the Ohio National Guard killed four students and wounded nine others at Kent State University. At least some of the victims had been protesting President Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia.

The deaths - dubbed a “massacre” at the time - prompted Neil Young to write Ohio, which was recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and quickly released. Americans of a certain age vividly recall what happened on that day, as well as the song inspired by that tragedy.

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it

Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Gotta get down to it

Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,

We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio. 


Pulitzer Prize-winning photo by John Filo shows Mary Ann Vecchio, 14, kneeling over the body of Jeffrey Miller, 20, one of four students killed at Kent State University in Ohio on May 4, 1970.

May 4, 1776: Rhode Island gives us our first Independence Day

Statue of Roger Williams in Providence, Rhode Island

When the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, it was simply catching up with one of its member colonies - Rhode Island - which made its break with England 239 years ago today, on May 4, 1776.

“Little Rhody” was feisty from the get-go, and it has played an oversized role in American history. Even its official name - the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations - belies its standing as the smallest state in the Union.

Founded in the 17th century by dissenters from Puritan Massachusetts, including Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, Rhode Island became "a lively experiment" that embraced such then-radical ideas as freedom of conscience. An inscription on the exterior of the Rhode Island State House reads: "To hold forth a lively experiment that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained with full liberty in religious concernments."

As tensions mounted in the years leading up to the American Revolution, defiant Rhode Islanders boarded and torched HMS Gaspée, a customs schooner, on June 9, 1772, well over a year before the Boston Tea Party and almost three years before the battles of Lexington and Concord.


True to form, Rhode Island later became not only the first of the 13 original colonies to declare its independence, but also the last of the original 13 states to ratify the U.S. Constitution. It did not do so until May 29, 1790, more than two years after Delaware became the first state to adopt the Constitution.

Today, a statue known as the Independent Man looks down on the capital city of Providence from atop the State House dome.

And now, a few words from . . . Theodor Seuss Geisel


Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

Editorial cartoonists: keeping the legacy of Thomas Nast alive

by Kevin Kallaugher