Lisa's Reviews > Ten Days in a Mad-House

Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly
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Apr 14, 2011

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I was curious about this book. I had always heard of Nellie Bly, intrepid female reporter, but I wondered how "groundbreaking" investigative journalism would be in the 1880s. This book had the story of Bly getting herself committed to the insane asylum, as well as stories about other assignments. The thing that impressed me the most about her asylum piece was that, per her editor's instructions, she got herself committed under a false name not knowing when she would be released. There seemed to be very little coordination with the paper. For all she knew, they might not be able to find her. Call me cautious, but I think I would have gone in there with a little more of an understanding about how and when I would be found and released!

In any event, she seemed more worried about being able to act crazy than about anyone getting her out. She needn't have worried about that. As she saw once she got in, women were being locked up who were in no way insane. Some were sick. Some didn't speak English. Some had families who didn't know what else to do with them. Women's sanity was judged in large part by how they looked to the judge. There was not a lot of legal recourse for these women.

I thought going into the story that I would find the conditions that were so scandalous in the 1880s mild in today's tell-all atmosphere, but Bly did manage to convey some brutal conditions and wholesale mistreatment of the inmates.

At the end of her assignment, the subsequent stories she published helped get more money raised for asylum care and alert the doctors, at least at this one facility, of the things happening right in front of them.

It was a quick read and one I'd recommend.
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