Chapter 13: Nellie Bly, businesswoman
Tuesday: Nellie quit reporting to write children's serial stories, but she didn't turn out to be good at fiction. She went back to The World and was sent to Chicago to cover a railroad workers strike.
Her stories about the Pullman Strike were some of the best Nellie ever wrote.
When she left Pullman, she interviewed the governor of Illinois and then visited a model city for workers at another company, a model city that really did help the workers live better lives.
Her trip to Illinois was very successful. But she wasn't happy. She wrote a sad letter to her old friend from Pittsburgh, Erasmus Wilson, whose column had started her career in journalism, nearly 10 years before.
"How I would like to see you! What a long time it has been, and how little I am doing. And I used to have such hopes!"
She wasn't writing many stories for The World anymore. She wasn't even staying at her house in the city most nights but at her farm in the countryside outside New York.
"Can you picture me as a farmer?" she asked Wilson. "I helped plant a barrel of potatoes this spring and I thought I was having loads of fun. But I soon got over it. The most I can do now is to walk through the garden and see how things are coming on."
She still did some good stories. She spent two nights in an inner city apartment and wrote about the lives of poor people there. She traveled upstate to Saratoga Springs and wrote of the bad effects gambling was having on that beautiful vacation spot.
Then she went back to Chicago to interview Eugene Debs, the railroad worker who had led the strike against the Pullman company. While she was in the Midwest, she traveled out to Nebraska and South Dakota to write about poor farmers in a land without enough rain.
And then she quit writing for The World entirely, and took a job with The Times-Herald, a new paper in Chicago.
She investigated the Cook County Jail, and, after her story appeared in the paper, things improved there. She went to another Chicago jail to write about it, but didn't find anything wrong there.
It was a new job in a new city at a new paper, but it was the same old work, and Nellie was tired of it. She stayed at The Times-Herald for only five weeks.
The next thing she did to change her life, however, was a very big change indeed.
On April 5, 1895, Nellie Bly married Robert Seaman, a wealthy businessman from New York. Neither of them had ever been married before. Nellie was now 31 years old. Robert Seaman had just turned 70.
The couple returned to New York and the gossip started almost at once. Some people joked that this must be another Nellie Bly trick to get a good story.
His family said she had married him for his money, and they weren't making a joke of it.
But Nellie Bly had money, she didn't need a man to pay her way, and she proved it. She went back to The World yet again and worked there for a year. Then she and her husband left for Europe.
Suddenly, she was no longer Nellie Bly. She was Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, retired newspaper reporter.
And yet she couldn't just stop being Nellie Bly. As her husband grew older, she began to run his business, which made the big steel milk barrels used to haul milk on trains. By the time he died in 1904, she was completely in charge.
She brought in new ideas for treating the workers, based on what she had learned in Illinois after the Pullman Strike. She even invented a better design for steel drums.
And the company may have been run by someone named Mrs. Seaman, but the advertisements said, "The Iron Clad Factories are the largest of their kind and are owned exclusively by Nellie Bly, the only woman in the world personally managing industries of such a magnitude."
The Iron Clad Manufacturing Company made good products. It sold a lot of them. And the workers were happy. It seemed perfect, except for one thing. The company always seemed to be short of money, and the accountants could never seem to figure out why.
The investigative reporter who had discovered so many dishonest people had somehow missed seeing the ones closest to her. Her own business manager and accountants had been stealing money from the company. The Iron Clad Manufacturing Company was going out of business.
The next 10 years were very difficult. Nellie spent time in court trying to get money back from the people who had stolen it, and she spent time in court trying to defend herself against the people to whom her company owed money.
This was one time when Nellie Bly's stubborn, bold nature was not helpful. She often lost her temper and refused to cooperate with people and with the courts.
Finally, she packed up and left for Vienna. There, she hoped to get advice and money from a friend to help with her problems. And besides, while she was in Vienna, she could get away from all the people who were trying to get money from her. It would be a chance to stop and think.
What she hadn't expected was to be in the middle of a World War. On July 28, 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia and Germany invaded Luxembourg. On August 1, Nellie Bly got on board a ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean anyway.
Thursday: Nellie Bly in War and Peace