Nellie Bly fakes insanity for first hand research of insane asylums

Nellie Bly Portrait
Nellie Bly
In 1887, Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, better known as Nellie Bly, was 23-years-old, and an inspiring journalist. Upon the request of an editor from the New York World newspaper, she was to fake insanity to be admitted into a New York insane asylum, where she could then conduct first-hand research.
After checking into a boarding home for women, Nellie feigned insanity, was arrested, and sent to an asylum that typically housed poor immigrants. She stayed there for ten days until the editors were able to get her a release.
Speaking of her experience, she said, “What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment?…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.”
She published Ten Days in a Mad-House, which would help drive more funding and change in NYC insane asylums. About a year later, based on the book Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne, Nellie became famous for attempting to travel the world in less than eighty days. She completed the journey in seventy-two days.

“Nellie Bly fakes insanity for first hand research of insane asylums” sources:

Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly / Wikipedia / Portrait of Nellie taken circa 1890, collection of the Museum of the City of New York – Wikimedia Commons.


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  • For a story about another journalist, please click here to read about Ida Tarbell.