decade: 1880

Elizabeth Cochran Seaman-

Elizabeth was best known for her investigative and undercover reporting,

In the late 1800s, she was given the assignment to report on the conditions of the ‘Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum’. She decided the best approach was to be committed to the facility.
In order to look more convincing, she dressed in tattered second-hand clothes and stopped bathing and brushing her teeth. She also practiced looking like a lunatic in front of the mirror for hours. Soon she started wandering the city in a daze.

Someone called the police to have Seaman evaluated, just as she wanted. Soon she was shipped to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

Seaman spent 10 days collecting information. She realized that the “human rat trap,” as she called it, was a filthy and overcrowded place. Nurses choked, beat, harassed and mocked the “inmates.” Food was terrible and vermin-infested.

Some of the “inmates” were not insane at all, they were in the Asylum because were physically ill, or foreigners.

She experienced firsthand the treatment that the “inmates” received while in the institution.
Seaman’s exposé, published in the World soon after her return to reality, was a massive success. Her report of the cruelty prompted public and political action led to the reform of the institution. She wrote about this experience in her first book,

'Ten Days in a Madhouse’
(1887)