21. Nellie Bly
Journalist and inventor Elizabeth Cochran Seaman used Nellie Bly as a pseudonym for her reporting work. At a time when most women working in journalism were reduced to writing about domestic life, such as housework, gardening, and child-raising, Bly became a hard-hitting investigative reporter, exposing corruption in the Mexican government of Porfirio Diaz. Threatened with arrest and imprisonment by the Mexican government she fled the country. When she learned of terrible conditions found in the Women’s Lunatic Asylum at Blackwell Island (Roosevelt Island, New York) she admitted herself, undercover, to learn the truth.
Her report of the conditions she discovered, published in the New York World and later in book form, led to public outrage, state-mandated reforms, and Bly’s immediate fame. She parlayed the fame into a journey around the world, emulating the fictional journey of Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days. She completed the journey in just a few hours over 72 days, a record for circumnavigation in 1888. During her lifetime Bly was a journalist, industrialist, adventurer, and philanthropist, inspiring women to enter each of those fields. She was the first internationally recognized female investigative reporter, a field in which women around the world continue to follow in her footsteps.