Racial and Sexual sins in Antebellum New Orleans

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Fundamentally, The Strange History of the American Quadroon  aims to debunk the mythological, hyper-sexualized representations of female quadroons of popular historical sources. In doing so, she explains how the attraction of the quadroon transformed New Orleans into a place of the exotic “other,” resulting in the tourist-centered culture that the city is today. Cementing Clark’s arguments is the newly-formed black republic of Haiti, whose refugees introduced over 1,000 free blacks to the city and caused a demographic imbalance of free black men and women for the city’s marriage market. Clark argues that these free women of color, who emigrated from Haiti with few resources, informed the stereotype of quadroons as fortune hunters who were inspired by their mothers to become the concubines of rich, white men. This book, finally recovering the lives of free black women in New Orleans from their pervasive literary exploitation, powerfully changes the ways in which the general public and academics conceptualize issues of race and sex in American history.

Clark first traces the origins of the quadroon to early national Philadelphia. Political concerns reflected conflicting ideologies between merchant and elite classes, influenced by the city’s commercial ties to Saint-Domingue. Philadelphia, the largest port city at the end of the eighteenth century, saw an influx of around 2,000 refugees from Saint-Domingue in the 1790s as a result of the French and Haitian Revolutions. The term quadroon became an epithet of promiscuity intertwined with political and social anxieties over commercial interests and racial equality. Clark’s connection between Philadelphia and New Orleans rests upon her argument that fears of interracial violence and black rebellion, expressed most potently in the political and commercial capital of Philadelphia, became assuaged with the emigration of 9,000 Haitian refugees from Cuba to New Orleans in 1809. The Haitian quadroon abated fears of black insurrection because she was socially and sexually conquered by white masculinity. This argument, though backed by the fact that free black male refugees were not allowed into the city, is not satisfactory in light of the preventative laws passed in the United States in order to curb slave rebellions, which continued to occur throughout the early nineteenth century.

Clark’s most striking arguments describe the varied experiences of quadroon women of New Orleans, proposing that economic disadvantages upon arrival to New Orleans, as well as civil codes barring interracial marriage, led many emigrant quadroons to become the ménagère, or housewife, of white men of middling business and elite classes. This Haitian practice allowed free black and mixed race women to exercise autonomy of self and household; in public depictions, this practice became equated to the plaçage complex (a 20th century term) in which quadroons “were imagined as romantically tragic kept women” who were “dependent and defenseless” in their largely transient relationships with men who would go on to marry white women instead (66). In reality, Clark explains, many white men (whom she terms “bachelor patriarchs”) established long-lasting and exclusive relationships with quadroons, acknowledged parentage of their children, and lived with them as almost-normal families. However, many other free black women of mixed parentage became prostitutes or were sold as sex slaves in markets that helped romanticize quadroons as exotic and sexually alluring as New Orleans became increasingly marketed as a site of sex tourism.

Though her chapters are organized thematically, Clark traces the transformation of the quadroon, and therefore the culture of New Orleans, from the late eighteenth century through the nineteenth century. The quadroon ball, in particular, and its depictions in literature demonstrate the degradation and exploitation of mixed race women for the pleasure and entertainment of white men from all over the country. Women who once publicly courted the upper class in the antebellum period were increasingly put on show for the rabble and sold as tourist attractions in the postbellum period. Fundamental to this transformation were the popularized accounts, often hearsay, of the quadroon as an orientalized, seductive, lavish, or tragic character particular to the scapegoated city of New Orleans, a site that represented the racial and sexual sins of the rest of the country. Clark explores the travel narratives, abolition literatures, novels, and sociological discourses published by Karl Bernhard, Lydia Maria Child, Joseph Holt Ingraham, and Harriet Martineau, respectively, which perpetuated these mythologies. However, Clark also brings forward letters, baptismal records, marriage licenses, and wills from the New Orleans archives which alter this strange history of the American quadroon and the Crescent City. Contrasting these sources, Clark’s book powerfully proves the consequences of shifting the nastier bits of America’s past onto certain people and certain places.

 

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What Golden Age?

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John C. Appleby’s Women and English Piracy examines the gendered world of piracy in the years from 1540 to 1720. Making a crucial intervention into studies of both Atlantic and women’s history, Appleby explores the increasingly violent and masculinized characteristics of English piracy as it expanded from England to Ireland, the Barbary Coast, Indian Ocean, the Caribbean, and English North America. Appleby discredits the notion of a “golden age” of successful and prevalent piracy in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, arguing instead that piracy became increasingly desperate. In Appleby’s telling, women become primary witnesses to these quite unromantic transformations in English piracy. Appleby thus expands both public and scholarly understandings of English piracy, highlighting the experiences of women of varying backgrounds as agents and victims as receivers of plunder, abandoned wives and mothers, victims of violence and sexual exploitation, as well as the occasional accessories to piracy itself.

Appleby first describes the rise and fall of English piracy from 1540 to 1720 as context for his subsequent, thematic chapters which are more focused on the experiences of women. Appleby emphasizes that coastal and river piracy (around the British Isles and Thames) in the earlier years of this period was largely economic in nature and dependent upon women. Pirates’ neighbors, wives, partners, friends, and mothers provided home bases for pirates who needed food, shelter, and entertainment upon arrival to shore. These women were instrumental to the distribution and sale of plunder, which provided pirates with their profits.

Appleby claims that the global expansion of English piracy in the early seventeenth century had significant repercussions for women’s lives and piracy itself. As pirates embarked on lengthier and more distant voyages, wives were increasingly abandoned and contact between pirates and their families decreased; overall, women became less important to the business of piracy. As pirates established bases on islands such as Jamaica, Providence, and Madagascar, women’s interactions with piracy revolved around selling rest, relaxation, sexual recreation, and only occasionally receiving plunder. Piracy became more masculinized through bonds of fraternity that formed on ever-lengthening voyages at sea; while once a means of economic support, piracy became a more self-interested means to the end of drinking, gambling, and whoring.

After warfare with Spain declined at the end of the seventeenth century, English privateering evolved into indiscriminate piratical plundering. Public pressures heightened national offenses against piracy through force and law. Thus, pirates around the globe increasingly encountered difficulty in recruiting crew members over the seventeenth century, resulting in impressment and enslavement. Appleby describes the tens of thousands of people captured by Barbary pirates by the end of the seventeenth century; while some English women became captives, many more were left without sons or husbands to provide for them, so they actively petitioned local authorities and the national government for help in paying ransoms. These petitions, while outside of the scope of English piracy itself, provide valuable documentation of how women were impacted by piracy in a dearth of source material from poor, often illiterate, women.

One of Appleby’s central points is to give a voice to the voiceless as he breaks down traditional associations of piracy with sex in this period, decidedly including issues of nonconsensual relationships. Temporary relationships that pirates had with Native women were often orchestrated as transactions for power and goods on behalf of local people, often Natives themselves. Appleby’s exploration of the interconnectedness of piracy with the African slave trade emphasizes African women’s frequent subjection, with impunity, to rape and degradation by pirates’ violent appetites. Appleby emphasizes that even white prostitutes in the Atlantic became subject to the whims of violent men come to shore so satisfy their sexual desires.

Appleby fundamentally argues that elite women such as Graine O’Malley of Ireland and Lady Elizabeth Killigrew of Cornwall, as well as the illegitimate-born Mary Read and Anne Bonny were uncommon of women’s participation in piracy. While the latter two women represent the poorer classes of women who associated with piracy, female piracy was rare due to the fraternity of masculinity that permeated pirate culture. Increased violence toward and abandonment of women coincided with the decreased involvement of women in business-related matters; for Appleby, these deliberate changes represent a pirate culture that became more disorganized and more desperate in the attempt to maintain an extra-legal, seafaring lifestyle.  Appleby’s scrutiny of the long-celebrated “golden age” of piracy recovers, as far as source materials allow, voices that have long been missing in pirate studies. Thus, this narrative takes readers across time, space, ethnicity, class, and gender in a way that re-works, and actually demystifies, popular and academic conceptions of piracy.

White Men, Power, and Property in the Antebellum South

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McCurry fundamentally explores power relationships between antebellum South Carolina yeoman farmers and their large planter neighbors as they went about their private and public lives within relative proximity of each other. While the planter class represented the political elite in the antebellum south, they could not function without the support of the lower class of small farmers, however much they viewed the lower class as inferior nuisances. This relationship plays out, McCurry argues, in the ways that yeoman farmers, as white landowners in the black belt of the south, asserted their social equality with plantation owners. Not only does McCurry explore the power relationships between these two classes, but she also discusses the power dynamics within these households, particular in terms of gender and race relations. One of the most significant additions McCurry makes to the historiography of the antebellum south and Civil War era is that she explains why poor whites went to fight for the Confederacy; simply, the racialized system they lived in helped yeoman farmers maintain their status as masters. While they were not masters over much, they still were a class above the black majority in South Carolina.

One of the underlying themes throughout McCurry’s book is the issue of individual property rights and community land claims in shaping these power relationships. Fences became integral to formally shaping individual properties, and McCurry states that men became masters of these fenced in worlds, and in particular, the people within them, women and slaves included. Understandably, the wealthier elites bought the most fertile, and therefore, most valuable lands; some yeoman farmers owned more property, but their property was typically made up of sand and swamplands that required much expensive maintenance to make into usable land. In these small farming households, both children and women worked the land, even alongside what few slaves they might have had. This distinguished, among other things, yeoman wives and their planter superiors; elite women did not physically work, but rather ran their households of many servants and slaves. Furthermore, both masters and mistresses of plantations attempted to establish patron-client relationships with the yeoman classes in various ways, but that ultimately failed because the small farmers believed themselves to be equals through their identities as masters over their own properties.

McCurry explains that the South Carolina Low Country remained very patriarchal; her discussion of southern churches explains in depth the interplay of both class and gender. The classes were integrated in this small community churches, kept in place by systems of pew-renting that meant planters got the best seats inside the church buildings. Many of the freedoms that were experienced even by the wealthiest of planter mistresses were kept in check by the yeoman class of men in their communities. While Brekus had briefly discussed the difficulty faced by women who wanted to be preachers in the south during this period, McCurry fleshes this argument out in full. She states that even elite planter women wishing to demonstrate charity needed to go through church elders who then designated where that charity would be allotted. The southern patriarchal system was also demonstrated through church discipline, McCurry argues; punishments almost always fell harder on women than men in many cases for similar offenses, and even southern Christianity argued for the validity of the slave system. Thus, she demonstrates the strong tie between church and politics in the south.

How and Why Housework was Devalued in the First Place

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In extensive document and theory-based detail, Boydston traces how the economic significance of women’s housework evolved in both private and public ways over the course of the late eighteenth century into the early nineteenth in the northeastern United States. Integrating both Marxist and feminist approaches in her analysis of the subject, Boydston fundamentally argues that women’s housework became increasingly devalued as an economic, societal contribution into the nineteenth century. Thus, Boydston argues that “the image of the colonial goodwife, valued for her contribution to household prosperity, had been replaced by the image of wife and mother as a ‘dependent’ and ‘nonproducer’” (xi). This speaks not only to husband-wife relationships within the home, but also American economics at large and changing societal conceptions of women’s value in general.

Boydston debunks the idea that industrialization is what devalued women’s labor; rather, she argues that this decline began well before then and was practically solidified by the end of the eighteenth century and the American Revolution. She also makes the crucial point that the term economy used to pertain specifically to issues of the household, including the work that kept it running smoothly. Because of this definition, women were valued as workers and laborers in their own right. Women’s contributions to their own homes were increasingly devalued, and sons began challenging their widowed mothers’ rights to their own contributions to the family’s home and wealth. Boydston notes that what had taken place over the course of the eighteenth century was not a change in the type of work women were doing, but the attitudes concerning that work that reflected a very negative view of housewifery in general. Also essential to this transformation was the increased dependency on a cash market and wage labor; women were significant contributors to the barter system because they were producers of finished goods including both food and textiles.

The American Revolution, Boydston argued, helped bring women’s work back to a position of value in their communities as many women contributed to the home-based production of essential goods in the midst of boycotts against the British. She states that money was again devalued which helped this shift take place. However, these sentiments did not last into the nineteenth century. Women’s home manufacture enabled their families to depend less on cash markets, yet even women grew to view their work as insignificant and themselves as dependent on their husbands’ support. These ideas were maintained through the war of 1812. The labor of women, Boydston points out, became increasingly defined as unpaid labor, while men’s work was defined as waged. Industrialization transformed the lives of the producing classes, Boydston notes; mass manufacture helped create a poor urban class dependent on the cycles of these industries, took jobs away from artisans and skilled workers, and a middle class began to develop within the developing consumerist culture. Thus, Boydston argues, the meaning of freedom transformed in the antebellum period, shifting from connotations of economic dependency to delineating wealth.

Boydston argues that housework was a crucial function for the poorest as well as elite families, though the work done by these wives was certainly different. While wealthier families could afford to pay domestic servants for their help (for duties such as cooking or laundry), these women simply shifted their attentions to other essential household duties, such as training servants. Even middle class women continued to participate in the efforts of home manufacture and yet still did the cooking, cleaning, and childrearing and essential behind the scenes work on farms. Many women themselves, Boydston claims, considered their household duties “drudgery,” and increased dependency on the cash market required new sets of skills in budgeting and market intuition. Many of these changes were influenced by the industrial threat to men’s masculinity and heads of households as breadwinners. Fundamentally, Boydston maintains that despite it being devalued in the eyes of many, both men and women, women’s household work was an essential contribution to emerging capitalist economy in the United States.

Jezebels, Mammies, and None of the Above

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For this particular round of books, Amber, Sarah, and I have each read a different book pertaining to enslaved women in the antebellum period. I read Deborah Gray White’s Ar’n’t I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South (1985), a groundbreaking study of antebellum southern plantations. Crucially adding to the traditional historiography on American slavery,  which had long focused almost exclusively on the experiences of enslaved men, White presents a detailed narrative that carefully examines the lives of southern enslaved women. In this monograph, White uses new evidence that better enlightens the everyday experiences of these women, including both their physical work and struggles to forge their own individual identities, as people more generally and as women more specifically, despite adversity and suppression. This book examines these issues from practically the beginning of the antebellum period through the Civil War and post-emancipation period.

Because the purpose of this book is to as thoroughly as possible unveil who these women were, White’s first chapter is dedicated to explaining what most of these women were not: the stereotypical Jezebel and Mammy. Thus, White debunks contemporary (and even perhaps modern) misconceptions about southern slave women as either sexually promiscuous or as asexual matronly figures. These two stereotypes open discussion for family dynamics, as well as racial dynamics on southern plantations. White claims that “half-white children told a story of  white man’s infidelity, a slave woman’s helplessness (though this concerned few whites), an a white woman’s inability to defy the social and legal constraints that kept her bound to her husband regardless of his transgressions” (40). Because the actions of southern white men pertaining to improper treatment (to use a euphemism) of their female slaves were increasingly condoned by northern abolitionists, southerners conjured up the paternalistic image of the domestic slave, the middle to elder-aged Mammy, whose role as nurse and housekeeper became integrated into the loving fabric of white families. White points out that this justification for slavery overemphasized the unfailing devotion slaves had to their masters, as well as the numbers of slave women who actually were in charge of white households.

After debunking these myths, White then thematically tackles different aspects of slave women’s lives. She addresses the economic significance of female slaves’ procreative abilities (later tackled in Jennifer Morgan’s Laboring Women, as we have discussed earlier); she discusses the 1629 Virginia field labor tax that helped solidify the conceptualization of the racial other in American society (as later discussed by Kathleen M. Brown in Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs and covered in this blog); she discusses everyday slave resistance such as feigning illness; she discusses the evolving nature of women’s work over the course of their lives; she addresses the nature of sexual and romantic relationships; she discusses the significance of motherhood in keeping slave families functioning both within themselves and the larger slave community on plantations; she discusses the lack of justice for these women in cases of sexual violence done to them by white and black men; she discusses the prejudice women faced even after fleeing to Union lines during the Civil War; and she discusses formerly enslaved women forming identities as women, and largely working women, in a world that repeatedly tried to take away that part of their identity. White emphasizes that even after living as legally free people in the U.S., black women needed to be self-reliant: “In short, life still challenged them to a different kind of womanhood, nothing like that of white women” (176).

As is the case with many women and gender studies, White explores the lives of antebellum enslaved women while also glossing over the experiences as men for comparison and contrast. However, White makes the crucial point that “Female slave bondage was not better or worse, or more or less severe than male bondage, but it was different” (89). Thus, White’s purpose remains to help fill in the gaps in the historiography on slavery as a whole. Before White, these women were largely left out of the story of slavery in the American South. White’s study enlarges that image to encompass not only the many types of labor done by slave women (including the duties of childrearing), but also different images of enslaved women sewing dresses, attending church, and performing midwife duties on neighboring plantations. Essentially, while showing antebellum slave women as victims of an oppressive system, she also shows the agency exerted by these women to form their own identities and shape their own lots in life despite their circumstances.

 

A Public Fight for Private and Political Rights

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Nancy Isenberg’s Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America (1998) ultimately provides a unique, but crucial, examination of the early women’s rights movement. Isenberg shifts her focus from Seneca Falls and the movements for suffrage and antislavery to a wider examination of other crucial rights that women in the antebellum period related to issues of citizenship. In this book, Isenberg seeks to answer these two questions: “How did feminists frame their understanding of rights within antebellum theories of representation?” and “How did this struggle over rights incorporate several distinct but overlapping legal and political debates that characterized the antebellum period?” (xiv). Thus, she examines (and challenges) public and private spheres in their connection to politics and laws that directly influenced the lives of antebellum women.

In particular, Isenberg focuses on the spaces of church and family in their influences on early women’s rights reformers, re-examining the beginning of the women’s rights movement as written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton in her History of Woman Suffrage (1881) and confirmed by historians in the many years after. She argues that “the early feminist movement is significant not for its mythic tales of origins but for the way it exposed the gendered construction of American democracy” (13). This construction, she emphasizes, meant that women, particularly white women, exercised very few privileges and civil liberties allotted to their male counterparts. Of particular importance to this discussion, Isenberg mentions, are the concepts of consent and self-protection, two principles essential to antebellum republicanism and citizenship yet ultimately denied to women. Discussing the importance of consent of the governed in connection to property rights, Isenberg illuminates these political spaces as ones that excluded women under coverture. Thus, women’s political concerns were technically represented in the form of their fathers and husbands, who were supposedly heading to the polls with the interests of their wives and daughters in mind: “As male guardians of private property, fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers carried women’s wishes to the polls and counsels of government” (27). Isenberg explains that in the public view, women, through marriage, consented to this arrangement and therefore legally resigned themselves to a life of submission.

Throughout her book, Isenberg relates these issues to women in the public sphere (specifically discussing political and social conventions, dress reform, women’s health, and modesty), the church and state relationship, prostitution, capital punishment, the Mexican American War, and marriage. In each of these discussions, Isenberg illuminates laws and social norms that prevented women from actualizing their identities as American citizens; furthermore, she explains how women participated publicly in these discussions of national (and international) concern. These women in antebellum America fought not only for their own rights, but for the rights of those with lesser standing in society, such as prostitutes, Native American women, and Mexican women (the latter two groups becoming spoils in the case of the Mexican War). Expanding the discussion of the beginning of women’s rights outside the origins of abolition, Isenberg shows that women reformers’ concerns were both widely varied and very much in tune with larger issues pertaining to the rights of American citizens in general.

One of my favorite things about this class is that we can draw connections between the works we have been reading over the course of the semester. Often times, our books mention other authors we have read, using those authors’ previous scholarship to build their own arguments and evidence upon. For instance, in her work on the lives of early American women, Kathleen Brown discussed slave women’s reproductive value to their slaveowners, nodding to Jennifer Morgan’s Laboring Women. As I was reading Isenberg’s chapter on women and the church, I noticed that her view of the church and state relationship post-Revolution was very different from Brekus’s. As I mentioned in my post on Pilgrims and Strangers, Brekus claimed that the revolution weakened the connection between church and state, thus making women’s preaching a strictly religious concern that did not endanger the larger social or political world. Isenberg, on the other hand, refers to a “dangerous and unholy alliance between the church and state” in which “the courts and the government forged a national and legal consensus on Christian morality” (78, 83). In Isenberg’s argument, the church continued to function bureaucratically, which caused sectarianism and opposition to women’s involvement in the public. While Brekus did give a compelling argument, Isenberg provided much more evidence that though legally separated, the church and state remained, for quite some time, co-dependent.

Sex and Citizenship in Early America is most definitely a valuable addition to historiography not only on the private, social, and political lives of antebellum women, but also on the early women’s rights movement specifically. While mentioning famous actors in the movement (such as Lucretia Mott), much more of the book introduces names not so-well known but still actively seeking equality in a variety of ways. Fundamentally, this book is enlightening because it shows these women’s lives were affected by many factors outside of their denied access to suffrage.

 

Blood and Brothels in 1830s NYC

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Patricia Cline Cohen’s The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of  a Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century New York (1998) was perhaps the most unique out of all of the books we have read thus far for this course. In this masterful and compelling narrative, Cohen performs intricate detective work on one woman’s life, the New York prostitution scene, moral reform, a small New England town, nineteenth century courtship, and, of course, a murder itself. While not providing a central argument throughout, as was the case of the books we have thus far covered, Cohen rather weaves together a story both sexy and tragic; while the case itself  is no mystery, Cohen’s central questions throughout are those that make this a work of historical merit: Why did the country become obsessed with the murder of Helen Jewett? What led the Judge and jury to acquit the obviously-guilty Robinson? What was this clearly intelligent girl doing as a sex worker in New York City? And what was, exactly, the nature of Jewett and Robinson’s relationship? Though Cohen does not divide this monograph into particular sections, my colleagues and I will do so in order to show as fully as possible the narrative structure and evidence used in this sinister, gory, but spellbinding work. I will be tackling the first third of the book, providing summary and introducing key characters that emerge in the early chapters.

The first six chapters of this book serve to introduce the event in question, central characters, and the nineteenth century society in which Jewett lived. Cohen opens The Murder of Helen Jewett by setting the scene of the night that Jewett was killed. For this opening chapter, Cohen primarily uses the testimony of Rosina Townsend, the brothel keeper, who discovered that “Helen Jewett had been murdered, and her companion of the previous night was nowhere in sight” (7). Richard P. Robinson, a young man not yet twenty, emerged as the primary suspect, having been Jewett’s most recent client; he was arrested and taken to jail while the investigation ensued.

The second chapter, entitled “Sensational News,” traces public reactions to the murder case through newspapers and penny presses of the day; Cohen relates that news of the beautiful, 23-year-old prostitute who had been axed in the face to death and burned had spread rapidly throughout New York City and beyond, having “struck a cord of some kind” in light of the fact that premeditated murder was actually fairly uncommon in NYC at the time (20). James Gordon Bennett emerged as a leading journalist covering the murder case, particularly attempting to answer the question that most readers wanted to know: who was this Helen Jewett, and where did she come from?

Chapter Three, “A Self-Made Woman,” introduces the back story of Helen Jewett, questioning her life and circumstances surrounding her servanthood in the home of  Judge and Mrs. Weston and the many accounts of her back story that appeared in newspapers. Born Dorcas Doyen, Jewett was sent as a domestic servant to the Westons’ home when she was 12 years old, was generally acknowledged by those who knew her to be vastly intelligent and talented, and was allegedly seduced shortly after turning 18, which forced her to leave her home in western Maine (though questions remained about her overt sexuality). Judge Weston himself had written a letter, re-published many times over in the press, which, though meant to repeal any implication of him or his family in the case, actually helped complicate further Helen Jewett’s history.

In her fourth chapter, Cohen explores the sex trade in New York City in the years surrounding Jewett’s murder. First describing the difficulty faced by Jewett’s friends in getting the public to sympathize with a prostitute, Cohen then explains the general attitude of legal indifference to prostitution in NYC in the early 1830s. As long as prostitutes and their clients were not making a scene or behaving in a disorderly way, the law regularly turned its head. However, Cohen describes a public concern over a perceived rise in prostitution, which resulted in measures taken by moral reformers and groups of ruffians. Groups of unruly and angry men hassled and roughed up prostitutes and brothel keepers, revealing their “contempt for the expensive and therefore out-of-reach prostitutes” (85). Jewett herself, Cohen explains, was a prostitute with a wealthier clientele, selling both sexual pleasure and experiences of socializing among extravagance (many sexual arrangements were made in the upper levels of theaters).

Chapter Five, “Acclaim for a Woman of Spunk,” explores sources (friends and legal) that reveal Jewett to have been a fiesty young woman who stood up to injustice “to make [her] a worthy murder victim” (87). These sources describe Jewett repeatedly going to court against men who have wronged her through either attacks on her physical person or belongings. Furthermore, Cohen describes many accounts made of Jewett emasculating men because of their behavior; however, Cohen is sure to remind readers that although Jewett’s actions may have seemed heroic to her friends, she was nonetheless not conforming to proper behavior for women at the time.

Cohen’s sixth chapter goes into detail about the ins and outs of the brothel business in 1830s New York City, particularly pertaining to the different locations Jewett herself worked at over the course of her four years in NYC. Cohen describes the lucrative real estate venture that was the loaning of buildings for brothel use that many men of means and standing participated in. Cohen writes that some prostitutes, including Jewett, also lent themselves out as “kept women” or mistresses, relationships that often entailed “an emotional dimension” as well as a business one (104). Cohen mentions that these areas with higher end brothels were often integrated into the rest of upper middle class and elite society. The merchant and young clerk class became important for this business as they increasingly moved away from home to seek employment in the big city. Importantly, Cohen notes that Jewett was able to hire a black maid, who was later called to testify in court.

While this summary does not justify the narrative mastery that is this book, I have hopefully illuminated some of the major themes running throughout. I have also not done justice to the characters studied by Cohen, characters whose experiences and actions help drive the story forward. Because this book is so interesting, my colleagues and I wanted to be able to describe its full contents at a surface level, allowing for those interested to get a full picture of the ideas at play throughout. For me, this book was a fascinating piece of story-telling that also delves deeply into matters of larger historical significance.