January 25 is a birthday shared by Robert Burns, William Colgate, W. Somerset Maugham, Virginia Woolf, Dean Jones, Etta James, Alicia Keys and several international footballers – Eusebio, David Ginola, Xavi and Robinho – amongst others, of course. However, as Hogmanay seemed so long ago now, A Room of One’s Own had featured in another assembly recently, and I had left my absolutely indisputable statistical research supporting the theory that the earlier you are born in the year, the better a footballer you are, I decided to focus my assembly on another significant event which occurred on that day in history.
Overlooking the deaths of Al Capone and Ava Gardner, Henry VIII marrying Anne Boleyn in secret, the establishment of Moscow University and Mendelssohn’s Wedding March being played at Queen Victoria’s daughter’s marriage, I spoke about Nellie Bly (the pen name of Elizabeth Jane Cochrane), who completed her then record-breaking round-the-world journey in 72 days in 1890.
Nellie was inspired to write after having read an “aggressively misogynistic” column in the Pittsburgh Despatch entitled ‘What Girls Are Good For’. She went on to work for Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper, New York World, taking on an undercover assignment feigning insanity to investigate reports of brutality and neglect at a women’s lunatic asylum. Her enlightening expose directly affected change in the US in laws governing the care of the mentally ill. Nellie eventually convinced Pulitzer to allow her to attempt to better Phileas Fogg’s fictional circumnavigation; she did so, becoming quite the celebrity in her day.
Nellie went on to marry a millionaire manufacturer 42 years her senior and invented a new milk can and stacking garbage can. She later returned to reporting, covering Women’s Suffrage in the US and Europe’s Eastern Front in WWI. I hope her story inspired my audience…