As the journalism historian Frank Luther Mott once wrote, nothing symbolized the sensations and scandals of the "New Journalism" of Joseph Pulitzer's The New York World like the work of his "stunt girls" in the 1880s and 1890s.
Nellie Bly, 1864-1922, is certainly the genre's most legendary exponent. As a reporter, she had many noteworthy gifts, not the least of which was her ability to get attention for everything she did. The jailhouse -- and the madhouse, of course -- figure prominently in her work.
Bly made any number of such visits, once getting herself arrested just to tell her readers how a lady can expect to be treated in such a circumstance (not well). She did jailhouse interviews with Emma Goldman, Eugene V. Debs and a couple of not-so-merry murderesses. She visited women prisoners at Police Court and interviewed prison matrons about the difficulty of getting women prisoners to reform.
Shortly before her death, she covered an electrocution. The story that resulted began, "Horrible, horrible, horrible!" and turned her into a fierce opponent of capital punishment, as her columns in The New York Evening Journal in the last years of her life attest.
Instinctively, she and her editors understood that correctional institutions were a better place than many to set a story and for this reason it is fitting for the New York Correction History Society to feature her in its annals.
Department of Journalism
Faculty of Arts and Sciences
New York University