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New Lesson Plan: Nellie Bly 1887-Exposing Treatment of those with Mental Illness

Published on Tue, 03/06/2018

Postcard-style black and white photograph of a wide stone building with a dome.
New York City Asylum for the Insane (Women), Blackwell Island, 1893

Nellie Bly’s account of her experience as an inmate at an asylum as an undercover journalist offers a gripping entry point into the history of mental health care reform and a discussion of how people in need of care should be treated. In this lesson, students explore several primary sources addressing the treatment of people with mental illness and disability at New York City’s Blackwell Island in the mid to late 1800s. Sources include: a short Edison film of Blackwell’s Island made in 1908, primary source photographs, and two excerpts of Nellie Bly’s expose, “Ten Days in a Madhouse.”  Two versions of the readings are provided to accommodate differing stages of reading development. Students are offered a choice for the summative assessment: to imagine themselves a New Yorker who has just read Bly’s exposé and to write a letter to the editor; or to imagine being a newspaper cartoonist and to create a political cartoon that highlights Bly’s message in “Ten Days in a Madhouse.” View more details, and download or access the lesson plan online. Emerging America brings this lesson to you thanks to the resources of the Library of Congress. Aligned to Common Core and Massachusetts State History standards.

Alison Noyes

Manager, Emerging America
Alison Noyes is the manager of the Emerging America program at the Collaborative for Educational Services, where she leads the English Learner Collaborations project funded by a Library of Congress grant to the Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies.