Monument honoring 19th century investigative journalist Nellie Bly coming to Roosevelt Island

July 30, 2019

Sketch of the madhouse on Blackwell’s Island via NYPL; Photo of Nellie Bly via Wikimedia

An investigative journalist who exposed the horrible conditions of a New York City insane asylum will be honored with a memorial. In 1887, reporter Nellie Bly went undercover at the Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum, located on what is now Roosevelt Island, and documented the cruel treatment of women being held there. Her six-part investigative piece, “Ten Days in a Mad-House,” led to major changes, including increased funding for the asylum and removal of abusive staff members. To recognize her achievements, a monument will be erected next year on Roosevelt Island.

The Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. issued a design call last month to create a monument in honor of Bly. The proposed memorial falls under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s initiative to honor historic women of New York.

“Nellie Bly’s life serves as an inspiration that transcends history,” Susan Rosenthal, president of the RIOC, said in a statement. “Her commitment to reform, whether in the workplace, in healthcare, or as an important voice in the suffrage movement serve as an example to the women of today.”

In its call for artists, the corporation said the proposed memorial can be “any form,” including a monument, sculpture, or a digital piece, and should be able to accommodate public gatherings. Submissions were due earlier this month and RIOC will select its five finalists on August 2.

Location options for the Nellie Bly memorial; courtesy of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp.

The memorial could be built at a variety of locations on Roosevelt Island but will most likely be near the Octagon Building, which sits on West Road at the former site of the asylum and now the entrance to an apartment complex. Or, the piece may be erected at Lighthouse Park, which sits at the northernmost part of the Island.

The project’s budget will range between $250,000 and $500,000, with construction expected to begin next spring and the unveiling sometime in May 2020.

During the 19th century, Roosevelt Island housed a prison, charity hospital, smallpox hospital, and a workhouse, in addition to the women’s asylum. These services led to the island’s name change from Blackwell’s Island to Welfare Island in 1921. More than 50 years later, the city created a master plan to build thousands of apartment units and renamed the land Roosevelt Island.

While Bly’s asylum coverage may have been the most influential, she also reported on the women’s suffrage movement and the Eastern Front during World War I. The trailblazer also traveled around the world, an ode to Jules Verne’s fictional “Around the World in Eighty Days,” story. She completed the trip in 72 days.

[Via Main Street Wire; Washington Post]


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