Ten Days in a Mad-House

Ten Days in a Mad-House Summary

Could I pass a week in the insane ward at Blackwell's Island?
I said I could and I would. And I did.
—Nellie Bly

Ten Days in a Mad-House is the true account by female journalist Nellie Bly as she took on an undercover assignment investigating the inner workings of New York City’s most notorious insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island in 1887. The fact that Bly took the risk of getting herself committed, knowing that conditions could be extremely wild and dangerous, speaks volumes about her bravery and dedication to journalistic integrity.

Over the course of ten days, Bly (who expressed surprise at how easily she was pronounced insane) experienced the dreadful conditions of Blackwell's Island alongside her fellow inmates. She soon found that with no heat, filthy water, inedible food, abusive and brutal doctors, guards and nurses, it was no wonder the women had gone insane. 

Bly published her findings in The New York World. Her graphic depiction of conditions at the asylum caused a sensation that brought Bly lasting fame and prompted a grand jury to launch its own investigation with Bly assisting. 

NELLIE BLY (1864–1922) was the pen name of American journalist Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman. She was also an industrialist, inventor, and a charity worker widely known for an exposé in which she faked insanity to study a mental institution from within, and a record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days, a real-life challenge echoing Jules Verne's fictional character Phileas Fogg. Bly focused her early work on the plight of working women, writing a series of investigative articles on female factory workers. She travelled to Mexico to serve as a foreign correspondent. In 1894 she retired from journalism, and became president of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co. For a time she was one of the leading women industrialists in the United States, but economic reversals forced her back into reporting, covering such events as the women's suffrage convention in 1913. Her most famous works include: Ten Days in a Mad-House (1887)andAround the World in Seventy-Two Days (1890).

"A classic from one of the first prominent female journalists in America."
—Kathryn Schulz, New York Magazine

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