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Brooke Kroeger is Professor at the New York University Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. Her books include Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist and Fannie: The Talent for Success of Writer Fannie Hurst.

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Bly’s life was a fascinating one. She was one of the first women journalists who managed to break out of covering solely “women’s interest” topics. She was an excellent interviewer; undeniably, even recklessly brave; inventive in search of interesting topics to discuss; but most importantly she was smart, talented and caring enough to make her articles count and make a difference, which is why she is remembered today mostly as an investigative journalist. Among her many expose articles, Bly contrived her arrest in order to investigate the conditions for the accused during the pre-trial period, visited a powerful Albany lobbyist as the wife of a patent medicine manufacturer who wanted to block proposed legislation affecting her husband’s business (the lobbyist obliged, down to naming the assemblymen with whom he’d have to share “fees” for this “service”), and most famously feigned insanity in order to report on conditions in an insane asylum. The Albany lobbyist fled the country at the onset of the investigation of his activities, but Bly’s recommendations regarding the jail and the insane asylum were carried through. However, while she could be unsparing in her descriptions, she was also fair. When she came to see Bridwell Prison (as herself), the superintendent Mark Crawford gave her “unrestricted access to the facility and its prisoners, saying, ‘I suppose when Nellie Bly comes I might as well throw up my hands.’ To this she replied shyly, ‘That depends.’ Crawford had nothing to fear. Bly described Bridwell as ‘the best managed institution I ever visited.’” I have read (an abridged version of) her book about her trip around the world which I enjoyed considerably, but I think it’s a pity that this is what she’s most remembered for today.

Bly was surprisingly multi-talented. When she inherited a factory, she learned how every machine in it worked and then designed improved ones (she ended up holding 25 patents) and quadrupled its business. Having written articles about the Pullman strike which were sympathetic to the workers and concluded that “Pullman himself bore most of the blame,” when “none of the other major New York newspapers carried stories of a similar type,” Bly stayed true to her principles when she became a businesswoman herself. In particular, she built a recreation center for her factory’s workers with a gymnasium with showers, “a 5,000-volume library with two librarians,” a piano and various games. “Entertainment was provided every Saturday night, and there were frequent lectures. A mutual aid committee visited the sick and those in distress. The company maintained a mini-hospital on site and arranged for a doctor to make house-calls at fifty cents a visit, with the company paying the balance on the bill. There was a baseball team and a hunting and fishing club.”

But unfortunately, Bly didn’t pay anywhere as much attention to the financial aspect of her company as she did to the technological one, and she ended up being swindled by accountants who embezzled her into bankruptcy. Amazingly, banks cashed obviously forged checks, with one amount crossed out and another written on top of it or with acid stains in the relevant fields, and then came together demanding that Bly pay them back the amount they had cashed – and the courts upheld their claims! A friend warned her that “‘there is a great prejudice against you in the atmosphere of the federal court in Brooklyn,’” several lawyers recommended to her by her friends refused to take up her case, while the forgers had no problem getting top-notch representation, and when a judge ruled in Bly’s favor, he “suddenly came under investigation by the grievance committee of the Brooklyn Bar Association on complaints against him in 15 cases…. The complainants were led by the attorneys for Bly’s creditors.”

Faced with the necessity to make a living again, Bly returned to journalism, going to Europe to cover World War I and to help organize relief for soldiers’ widows and orphans and then returning to her old newspaper in New York. In this latter part of her career she often wrote advice articles based on the numerous letters she received from readers. However, Bly’s active and compassionate nature couldn’t limit herself to advice alone, and she often helped people get healthcare, find jobs and affordable childcare, and turned her home into a temporary home for abandoned children for whom she was finding adoptive families. She didn’t slow down the pace of her life even when she found herself getting in and out of hospital; she died at 57 from bronchopneumonia complicated by heart disease.

Nellie Bly’s life was a full, varied and admirable one, but unfortunately this biography’s tone marred my enjoyment of it considerably. The author writes in the introduction to her book that Bly was her inspiration for becoming a journalist herself and that it took her a lot of effort to do research for a full biography when she learned that none existed, except for children. Therefore, the snide tone maintained throughout this book took me completely by surprise. The author misses no opportunity to criticize or belittle Bly and seems almost to take pleasure in recounting her misfortunes (at great length – the chapter on bankruptcy is 60 pages long). To give but a few of a myriad of examples, Kroeger’s only comment regarding the banks’ most likely having hired lawyers for Bly’s embezzlers is, “There was nothing illegal about the banks’ interceding. In fact, it would have made good business sense.” Of Bly’s inventions Kroeger writes, “She introduced more modern, more efficient processes, of which she said, ‘many I devised myself’…. She learned how to operate every machine in the plant and even claimed to have designed several new ones.” The words “she said” and “she claimed” make it appear that there’s no proof of it and we have only Bly’s own word regarding her contributions to her business’s technology. However, Kroger herself admits that “by 1905 she [Bly] held twenty-five patents in her own name.” In that case why not just report these facts as facts? And when writing about Bly’s charitable activities, Kroeger finds it necessary to tell readers that Bly’s “need to feel vital and important was certainly part of” her motivation and that focusing on other people’s troubles must have helped her forget her own. “In any event, it enhanced the image of ‘angel of mercy’ she had been so busy cultivating with reports of her many good deeds.” Well, if everybody fulfilled their need to feel vital and important, forget their troubles and have a positive self-image by immersing themselves in real and practical humanitarian work, there would have been no need for such work. Kroeger mentions repeatedly in her book that the journalists’ professional publication hardly ever mentioned Bly’s work because of jealousy her success and fame arose in her colleagues, and it seems to me that Kroeger herself is not immune from this feeling. I’ve long wanted to read a biography of Nellie Bly because I thought it would be an interesting read, but her life story proved to be so much more. I came away from this book with an enormous respect and admiration for Bly, since the facts speak for themselves, despite the author’s tone – but if this hadn’t been her only biography, I would have preferred to read another book.
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Ella_Jill | 4 andre anmeldelser | Dec 26, 2011 |
Nellie Bly was all kinds of awesome and apparently was the basis for the character Lois Lane (according to Sarah Rees Brennan in her blog, which is quite entertaining and inspired me to read more about Nellie). Bly virtually invented and became known for "stunt reporting" in which she would go undercover in dangerous situations and then tell all. For example, she tricked hospital staff into thinking she was insane and then wrote and expose on conditions inside. She accepted the challenge of Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days and beat the record of the fictional character, making her world wide journey in a mere 72 days. She went to Mexico to report and was nearly arrested by the dictatorship. She journeyed to Austria and became one of the first female war correspondents during the beginning of WWI.

Keep in mind, her life spanned from 1864-1922, so not exactly a world that was used to or stoked on such feminine versions of strength.

Kroeger tracked down letters, strained her eyes looking at news paper microfiche, and trolled through dusty back rooms at libraries to compiled this in-depth look at Bly, while also offering a look at the newspaper industry in general. Bly was far from perfect, but she believed strongly in her own strength of will, claimed a place for herself in man's world, and never gave up standing for what she thought right.
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andreablythe | 4 andre anmeldelser | Dec 12, 2011 |
I love reading about unorthodox, adventurous, Victorian-era women and had recently wanted to know more about Nellie Bly.

Kroeger's portrait of Bly is both thorough and balanced. I came away with less respect for Bly than I thought I would, but I learned more about her than I had hoped. I also came away with respect for the author.
bookwoman247 | 4 andre anmeldelser | Aug 23, 2011 |
The biography of this woman who lived to be only 57 years old was tedious and overlong. The impression I had when reading the book was that Kroeger included every fact from her research. I also think that Kroeger's prose was infected by reading too much of Nellie Bly's. I wouldn't have finished the book had I not wanted some information about Bly for a writing project.
labwriter | 4 andre anmeldelser | Aug 18, 2010 |



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