Better known by the pen name Nellie Bly, Elizabeth Jane Cochrane was a trailblazing muckracker in the late 1800s. Her best-known work includes an undercover exposé of deplorable conditions at a mental institution on Blackwell’s (now Roosevelt) Island. Posing as a patient, Cochrane spent 10 days at the facility gathering reports of physical and emotional abuse, unsanitary baths and inedible food. A number of the women she encountered had been committed against their will and appeared to be of sound mental health.
Cochrane’s investigation launched a municipal investigation that led to much-needed reforms. She continued advocating for marginalized and impoverished individuals in later reports on the plights of prisoners, factory workers and railroad strikers.