Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist by Brooke Kroeger

Nellie Bly by Brooke Kroeger

From the Times Books description of Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist by Brooke Kroeger (1994): Nellie Bly was “the best reporter in America” according to the New York Evening Journal on the occasion of her death in 1922.

One of the most rousing characters of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Nellie Bly was a pioneer of investigative journalism.

She feigned insanity and got herself committed to a lunatic asylum to expose its horrid conditions. She circled the globe faster than any living or fictional soul. She designed, manufactured, and marketed the first successful steel barrel produced in the United States.

She owned and operated her factories as a model of social welfare for her workers. She was the first woman to report from the eastern front in World War I. She was, in the words of Brooke Kroeger’s captivating biography, the maestra of the front-page sensation story.

Her arrival in New York at the age of twenty-three took New York City by storm. She quickly made a career of self-invention. Her instinct for a scoop was peerless. She thrust herself into the public arena, regaling her avid readers with provocative, even intimate interviews with the great figures of the day.

Her assignments often had the aura of mission, embracing the needs fo the helpless or laying bare the schemes of scam artists and hucksters, from fortune-tellers to powerful lobbyists. She also had an unerring sense of what would sell, and so made a specialty of the jailhouse confessions of accused avengers and murderers.

Soon Bly had imitators in her chosen field of “stunt journalism.” Together, Nellie Bly and her female colleagues were able to bring women — as a class — out of the journalistic sideshow and into the main arena.

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Nellie Bly by Brooke Kroeger

Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist by Brooke Kroeger on Amazon*
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Stunts did not appear on the traditional women’s pages. They required daring, resourcefulness, a strong news sense, quick turnaround, and cunning — all qualities Bly possessed in abundance. What set her apart was the force of her personality and the way she wove it without apology or humility into everything she wrote.

Her trademark signature stamped everything she did: compassion and social conscience, buttressed by disarming bluntness. Bly simply produced, week after week, an uninhibited display of her delight in being female and fearless and her joy in having such an attention-getting place as Joseph Pulitzer’s metropolitan daily newspaper to strut her stuff.

Integrating a wealth of previously unknown information with a reporter’s zeal for the hard fact, Brooke Kroeger’s penetrating biography illuminates a pivotal figure in American journalism.

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Nellie Bly young

In Search of Nellie Bly: Uncovering America’s Pioneering Investigative Journalist

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Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist is the first fully documented biography of Bly to give us — in all her complexity — the most famous woman journalist of her day, an extraordinary American industrialist, and a compelling humanitarian.

In tracing the trajectory of Nellie Bly’s life as a woman, critic, and crusader, in describing how Bly did it — how she relentlessly drove herself to surmount challenge after challenge — Kroeger gives us not only an inspiring story but an example of an age when American women were vigorously asserting their right — indeed their need — to shape history itself.

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Brooke Kroeger directs NYU Journalism’s graduate Global and Joint Program Studies and has been a faculty member since 1998. She was department chair from 2005-2011 and the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute’s inaugural director.

Her latest book, The Suffragents, chronicles the prominent, influential men whose support helped women get the vote. She is also the author of Passing: When People Can’t Be Who They Are, Fannie: The Talent for Success of Writer Fannie Hurst (1999), and others.

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*This is an Amazon Affiliate link. If the product is purchased by linking through, Literary Ladies Guide receives a modest commission, which helps maintain our site and helps it to continue growing!

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