Journalist Nellie Bly made history on Roosevelt Island in New York City in 1887. On 10 December 2021 she did it again. I was there.
The Girl Puzzle monument, honouring the life and legacy of Nellie Bly, was unveiled steps away from the scene where she pioneered a brave new journalism. Investigative reporting was born when Bly feigned madness to investigate the brutality suffered by vulnerable women committed to the insane asylum on the island bordering Manhattan. Her accounts in The New York World and book Ten Days in a Mad-House horrified the public and brought about sweeping changes.
The Girl Puzzle monument, named after her first published piece in which Bly boldly defied discrimination, celebrates America’s first investigative journalist who challenged injustice in asylums, prisons, sweat shops — and gave voices to the voiceless.
Like The Girl Puzzle’s creator artist Amanda Matthews of Prometheus Art, I have worked to get Nellie Bly and all she represents ‘back on the map’ to inspire us.
Although I most admire Bly for her investigative journalism, she is best known for her race around the world in 72 days in 1889-90 – alone with just a Gladstone bag – to beat Phileas Fogg’s fictional 80-day record. To pay tribute to her, endorsed by WIJ, I followed in Nellie Bly’s global footsteps 125 years later. Following Nellie Bly: Her Record-Breaking Race Around the World captures both of our journeys.
The Girl Puzzle monument represents the culmination of my goal. Nellie’s role has at last been acknowledged in a remarkable memorial celebrating her journalism and the humanitarian values she embraced. Ground-breaking in many ways, the Girl Puzzle also helps to address a shocking imbalance — less than 8 percent of statues in America commemorate women.
The monument consists of 7-foot bronze faces and progressively larger mirrored spheres that reflect the impact of her reporting. Bly’s face is joined by four others representing women from diverse or marginalised communities.
Noting that the dedication was held on United Nations Human Rights Day, artist Amanda Matthews said: “Nellie Bly began her journey as a girl who dared not to be defined by someone else and emerged a woman who transcended her time and changed the world, leaving it a better place. I realised that the best way to honour Nellie Bly is to continue her work of advocacy into the 21st century.”