Nellie Bly is the subject of Google’s doodle for May 5, as the day would have been the journalist’s 151st birthday.
Bly was her pen name. Her real name was Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman. She was best known for her record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days and an an exposé in which she faked insanity to study a mental institution from within its confines. She is considered a pioneer and is credited with starting a new kind of investigative journalism.
Bly began writing for The Pittsburgh Dispatch in 1885 before moving to New York and working for New York World. The trip around the world and the mental institution story were for the latter. From Biography.com:
One of Bly’s earliest assignments at the paper was to author a piece detailing the experiences endured by patients of the infamous mental institution on Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island) in New York City. In an effort to most accurately expose the conditions at the asylum, she pretended to be a mental patient in order to be committed to the facility, where she lived for 10 days.
Bly’s exposé, published in the World soon after her return to reality, was a massive success. The piece shed light on a number of disturbing conditions at the facility, including neglect and physical abuse, and ultimately spurred a large-scale investigation of the institution as well as much-needed improvements in health care. Later in 1887, Bly’s series was later reprinted as a book, Ten Days in a Mad-House, published in New York City by Ian L. Munro.
The trip around the world came in 1889 as an attempt to break the fictional record of Phileas Fogg from Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, which was published roughly sixteen years prior.
Bly married millionaire indsutrialist Robert Seaman in 1895 at the age of 35, and retired from journalism until returning after Seaman’s 1905 death. She started working for the New York Journal in 1920 before dying of pneumonia two years later at the age of 57.
Google’s doodle is animated, and features a lovely song performed by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs:
The lyrics go: “Someone’s gotta stand up and tell ’em what a girl is good for. We gotta speak up for the ones who’ve been told to shut up. Oh, Nellie take us all around the world and break those rules ’cause you’re our girl. Oh, Nellie take us all around the world with you. We want to make something of ourselves too. Oh, Nellie you show us just what you would do. Oh, Nellie you show us just what you would do.”
This is reportedly the first original song to be written for a Google doodle. It’s definitely a good one to start with, and it will be interesting to see if it happens more often. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Arcade Fire work with Google on one at some point given that the band has worked with the company on various projects in the past.
The doodle from artist Katy Wu, also reportedly represents the first time one has utilized stop-motion animation. Wu told CNN Bly “gave women a space in newspapers when they were generally preserved for men’s perspectives. She gave women a voice in current events and media and dared to do a lot of things that women weren’t generally allowed to do.”
The beauty of Google’s doodles is that they provide a format to spread mini-history lessons to users all over the world, and you can believe that a lot more people know about Bly’s story than did yesterday.
Images via Google, Wikimedia Commons