Nellie Bly, "the best reporter in America": one woman's rhetorical legacy

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University of Alabama Libraries

My project shares the story of Nellie Bly, a true writer who applied her energies to accomplish more in her writing than most women of her time ever dreamed possible. During the Progressive Era (1890-1920), Bly fervently sought to define herself as a writer as she simultaneously negated the socially-constructed parameters that often sought to shield her from certain topics, those issues which were not considered appropriate for a woman's pen to negotiate. What sets Nellie Bly apart from the largely silenced crowd of women attempting to write in her era is that she knew how to present stories as well as any man, if not better. Bly should be recognized as a writer in the annals of history and within the rhetorical canon. Little scholarly work exists on Nellie Bly's contribution to women's writing, or the ways in which women were allowed to express their views during the Progressive Era. Therefore, my dissertation specifically addresses the following aims: 1. To show the need for historical work on texts written by females in the Progressive Era. 2. To propose the texts of Nellie Bly as one locus of this historical work. 3. To provide a theoretical framework and research methodology to investigate feminist contributions to enlarge and enhance the rhetorical tradition of women and their writing. Building on the methodology of rhetorical sequencing devised by Richard Enos, my dissertation contributes to a greater understanding of the rhetorical canon by arguing to include another contributor. My study describes how Bly voiced her concerns in rhetorical spaces where women had been mostly absent, and thus how she disrupted rhetorical modes by which women were largely silenced. My major objective is to add to the history of women's contributions to rhetoric by placing Nellie Bly and her work in that history. By restoring voice to Bly, who wrote when women were largely silenced, I add to discussions surrounding the need to further recognize feminist rhetorical contributions within the field of rhetoric and composition.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Women's studies, Journalism