A courageous female journalist’s classic exposé of the horrific treatment of the mentally ill in nineteenth-century America
In 1887, Nellie Bly accepted an assignment from publisher Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World and went undercover at the lunatic asylum on Blackwell Island, America’s first municipal mental hospital. Calling herself “Nellie Brown,” she was able to convince policemen, a judge, and a series of doctors of her madness with a few well-practiced facial expressions of derangement.
At the institution, Bly discovered the stuff of nightmares. Mentally ill patients were fed rotten, inedible food; violently abused by a brutal, uncaring staff; and misdiagnosed, mistreated, or generally ignored by the doctors and so-called mental health experts entrusted with their care. To her horror, Bly encountered sane patients who had been committed on the barest of pretenses and came to the shocking realization that, while the Blackwell Island asylum was remarkably easy to get into, it was nearly impossible to leave.
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So the premise is simple. Nellie Bly has herself committed to a mental hospital (on assignment by her publisher) by pretending to be "mad" for a few police officers and a judge. Right off the bat, the author is indeed "mad" in her own right for accepting such an assignment. The rest is incredibly disturbing. A first hand account at what a mental asylum had to offer its patients and how they were treated in such poor fashion. The dehumanizing torture that mental patients had to endure in those days told right from writings of the woman that lived it, if only for ten days. A short read, but a good one.35
As a nurse, reading and watching about asylums where the nurses are evil were easy to swallow if it was all make-believe (“American Horror Story: Asylum”, “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest”). I think the little essay at the end, where the author tells of the agency advertising her out as a nurse, not knowing the first thing about her was very telling. Ugh, reading this was terrifying. I’m going to watch Netflix for awhile.45
An awesome true story by the 1st U.S. woman investigator.55