In The Murder of Helen Jewett, Patricia Cohen uses one of the most trivial murders during the 1800's to illustrate the sexiest society accommodations to the privileged, hypocritical tunneled views toward sexual behavior, and the exploitation of legal codes, use of tabloid journalism, and politics. Taking the fact that woman was made from taking a rib from man was more than biblical knowledge, but incorporated into the male belief that a woman's place is determined by the man. Helen had the proper rearing a maid servant, but how did she fall so far from grace. Judge Weston properly takes credit for rearing her with the proper strictness and education. Was Helen seduced at an early age and introduced to sexual perversions that were more persuasive that the bible belt life that the Weston's tried to live? Was Helen simply a woman who knew how to use what she had to get what she wanted? Through personal correspondence, legal documentation, census reports, paintings, and newspapers we are able to make our on determinations. Cohen provides more than enough background and history to allow any one to make their own opinion how the murder of a woman could be turned into a side show at a circus.
Helen Jewett, a prominent New York prostitute, was murdered and not only was this rare but a heinous crime. Helen's murder brought to the forefront the industry of prostitution. This would include the owners, managers, and the clients.
In the Victorian era, in New York City, men and women roles within the society were as different as night and day. A man regardless of his extra curricular activities could still maintain a very prevalent place in society. A woman's worth was not only based family name which distinguished her class and worth, but also her profession if that was applicable.
During this time in society the industry of prostitution was an economic gold mine. The women operate the brothel while very distinguished men in the community own and take care of the up keep. The brothel keepers are seen as nothing more than common home wrecking whores. However, the owners of the brothels are viewed as successful business men.
For example, John Livingston, brother to President Jackson's, Sec of State, own the 41 Thomas St brothel. Men of great wealth and statue were frequent to this address. John Livingston came to own some 30 luxury brothel buildings. His high class brothels were located next to churches, private residence, and businesses, but the society saw nothing wrong with that.
Now look at Rosina Townsend who maintained the brothel. Mrs. Townsend's brothel was a high-end brothel, but her reputation or her word was worth mo more than a piece of dirt in the bottom of your shoe. This was demonstrated the most during the trial. Judge Ogden Edwards spent an entire hour instructing the jury. The judge instructed the jury to weigh all characters involved, victim, accused, and witnesses. He instructed that the prostitutes were not to be believed unless corroborated by respectable individuals. He went as far as to try to establish an alibi for Robinson in respect to visiting the brothel on the night of the murder. If the jury felt Robinson's guilt was beyond doubt, then to convict him; if not acquit.
The collective attitude of society was to look upon Mrs. Townsend negatively for the participation in the brothel, but the owner still walked away with no spot. With all of eminent moral reformer they could not or should it be said would not point a finger at a respectable property owner. The owner not only benefited economically but could participate in the activities of the house.
Upper society need to place the blame on someone for the corruption that prostitution has on men. There needed to be someone who was responsible for the to corruption; so lets blame it on the prostitutes. The book touches on this a couple of times, but it does not really get into it. The newspapers make mention of...
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