Early female reporters pave way for future

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The role of women in newsrooms across the county has not changed much in the last 30 years when women like Diane Sawyer made a name for herself on 60 Minutes.

Although women still struggle to make a name for themselves in media outlets across the nation, we’ve come a long way since the late 1800s when early pioneer Elizabeth Jane Cochran was first hired a reporter.

Cochran got her start in journalism after writing a fiery response to an editorial published by the Pittsburg Dispatch.

The editorial published in the early 1880s, talked about a woman’s place being at home completing domestic tasks like cooking and sewing. Cochran, familiar with young women who had to work in industrial Pittsburgh to survive, wrote such a compelling response that the publisher hired her to write under the name “Nellie Bly.”

Cochran’s first story was about the difficulties of poor working women. Her second story was about the need for divorce law reform.

When she was 21 years old, she spent six months in Mexico writing stories about the lives and customs of the Mexican people. Her reports sometimes involved protesting political injustices, such as the imprisonment of a local journalist for criticizing the Mexican government.

When she was 23 and working for the “New York World,” a Joseph Pulitzer publication, she posed as a patient in order to reveal the truth about inhumane treatment of patients at a New York City mental institution.

After 10 days at the Blackwell’s Island institution, she wrote numerous stories detailing the cruel treatment of patients bringing about the reform of the institution.

By age 30, she had not only become one of the few female journalists in the nation, but also defined a new type of investigative journalism.

Cochran proved to the writer of the editorial and the rest of the world that a woman’s role was not restricted to a home, but instead could be whatever she wanted.