Covering Mental Health
The New York City Lunatic Asylum opened up on Blackwell’s Island in 1839, a short ferry ride away from the island of Manhattan. The term “lunatic asylum” was used to refer to a psychiatric or mental health hospital in the 1800s. It was widely seen as derogatory and dropped out of use by the end of the nineteenth century.
Blackwell’s Island, as the hospital came to be known, closed in 1894, seven years after Nellie Bly’s Ten Days in a Mad-House was published. While Bly was not the first reporter to write about the conditions of mental hospitals, her work on Blackwell’s marked a new chapter in investigative reporting.
Read the opening of Nellie Bly’s first article in the World after her experience at Blackwell’s Island and answer the questions in the boxes below.
“Behind Asylum Bars” by Nellie Bly. The New York World. Oct. 17, 1887. Permission has been granted for educational purposes only, courtesy of NYU Digital Library Services.
Annotate this Image
Directions: Read the second excerpt by Nellie Bly in which she reaches Blackwell’s Island; utilize the magnifier tool to help you. Then use the annotation tool to take notes on the following questions:
- What do you first notice about how Bly opens her article?
- How did Bly convey the severity of the situation at the asylum?
- How do you feel reading Bly’s statement that it would only take two months for a sane woman to become a “mental and physical wreck” after entering Blackwell’s?
Download the notes to share with your class.
Source: Ten Days in a Mad-House. Excerpt from chapter 12, “Promenading with Lunatics.” Nellie Bly. New York: Ian L. Munro. Permission has been granted for educational purposes only, courtesy of NYU Digital Library Services.
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