By Rachel Brown
Nellie Bly — world traveler, investigative journalist and a crusader for women’s rights — has joined George Washington and Steelers great Franco Harris greeting arriving passengers at Pittsburgh International Airport.
The airport’s Arts & Culture program had been fielding ideas for another statue to join those of Washington and Harris and decided on Bly after consultations with the Heinz History Center.
And Bly certainly is significant, says Anne Madarasz, chief historian at the Heinz History Center.
“Many people know Nellie most likely for her well-documented, 72-day trip around the globe in 1890, inspired by the Jules Verne novel, ‘Around the World in 80 Days,’” Madarasz says. “But others may not know her significance as an investigative journalist, suffrage advocate and inventor. As someone reading Bly’s writings in the present day, one can still find strength in her voice and relevance to our times in relation to women’s rights and advocacy.”
The statute was to be installed in late March of 2020 in honor of Women’s History Month and the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, but that was postponed due to Covid and just was officially unveiled on Thursday.
Attired in a traveling coat and hat with a small suitcase in her hand, the statue of Nellie takes her place alongside Washington and Harris near the escalators in the Airside Building. Each figure will include small panels explaining the person’s historical significance to Western PA.
Bly, whose real name was Elizabeth Cochran, was born in 1864 in Cochran’s Mills, a part of Burrell Township in Armstrong County. She began her writing career as a teenager for the Pittsburgh Dispatch, which today is the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Bly became a historical figure who pioneered investigative journalism and displayed tenacity at a time when there were few female role models.
In 1887, she left the Dispatch and went to work for the New York World. She worked undercover and wrote an expose about a mental institution on Blackwell’s Island (now known as Roosevelt Island) in New York City, which led to reforms. On Nov. 14, 1889, she started her record-breaking, 72-day trip around the world, departing on a steamer in New Jersey and returning on Jan. 25, 1890.
After her husband, Robert Seaman, died in 1904, she took over his company, Iron Clad Manufacturing, and secured two patents in her name.
The airport’s Arts & Culture program aims to engage travelers in Pittsburgh’s rich history and showcase cultural institutions like the Smithsonian-affiliated Heinz History Center.
“We appreciate the continued partnership with the airport as a way to highlight the vibrant history of our region,” says Madarasz.