I learned about Nellie Bly the way I learn about most rule breaking, history making and forgotten women in history- through Drunk History. I was surprised to see that my library had Ten Days in a Mad House since it is essentially just her 1887 newspaper article. After reading Mad House, and really liking it, I sought out Around the World in Seventy-Two Days and found it for .99 on Kindle. I was less enthralled by Around the World- it’s pretty racist (a product of “the time”).
Ten Days in a Mad House is the superior Bly book. Nellie details her journey into being committed, she had to get legally sent away or else she’d blow her cover, by showing up at boarding house with little money, rambling about her lost trunks and not sleeping overnight. The matron of the boarding house took Bly, going by Nellie Brown, to the police and she was committed by a judge. Ten Days details her subsequent time in Blackwell Island Insane Asylum and the grand jury investigation into her finding. Her expose went a long way into psychiatric care reform by highlighting the unsanitary conditions, the inedible food and the cruel nurses.
“If I fail, I will never return to New York,” I would say despondently; “I would rather go in dead and successful than alive and behind time.”