Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Girls’ Trip to Evil Haunts Blamed on Novels

Remember children, the policeman is your friend
Especially when your trip to New York lands you in a brothel
Those damn novels, leading young women astray for generations. Now, of course, when people are looking for something to blame, they never think of novels. But in 1889, novels were still on the suspect list, though it had become limited to “trashy novels.” Got that? There are good novels, then there are trashy novels. And if you read the trashy kind, there’s no telling what could happen to you.

The Evening World did manage to quietly give their readers the addresses of two New York brothels, though the implication of the article was that the police had closed these “establishments.” When I was last in New York, I took the Tenement Museum tour (tours only because it’s a preserved tenement house, that was boarded up for decades and used as a storehouse, so its interiors were largely preserved), the tour guide said nothing about tenements being used as houses of prostitution,[1] but that is the implication of this article. Yes, that “trashy novels” will land you in a brothel.

It’s time for the cautionary tale, as given in the Evening World of November 12, 1889.
Two Wayward Country Girls Rescued from Evil Haunts.

Susan Snyder, aged thirteen years, and Mamie Brossel, aged eighteen, two pretty girls of Reading, Pa., whose heads had been turned by reading trashy novels, left their homes a few weeks ago and came to New York. They are safe at Police Headquarters to-day.
An escapade of the two to a neighboring picnic a little while before had procured for them severe beatings from their parents and New York stood for freedom.
Supt. Murray’s men, on a despatch from the parents, searched the downtown resorts, and yesterday Susan Snyder was found by Detectives Cooper and McDermott at 12 Delancey street, and Mamie Brossel in a like establishment at 70 Eldridge street.
Margaret Thompson and Elizabeth Hartel, who kept the houses, were arrested on a charge of abduction.
The Reading, Pennsylvania directory for 1889 has many Snyders and no Brossels, which makes finding either of these two young women just about impossible. Judging from the 1880 census, there were about three four-year-olds with the name Susan Snyder. No guess on Mamie.[2]

Note that the article does not include any particular criticism of the beating they received for going off to a picnic. That seems a bit harsh. We’re talking picnics here. Could readers in 1889 seen that as even slightly justified? But, the World blames not child abuse but trashy novels for the girls’ decision to run off to New York.

It looks like the city was tougher than they expected. Did they think they would find immediate fame and fortune and instead find that the only shelter was in “evil haunts”?

The one person in this story whom I found any information on is Elizabeth Hartel, though not enough to tell you how old she was. It seems that the prostitution was a side business for her, since her profession is listed in several directories of New York as “beer.” They also note that she’s widowed, and her late husband’s name Philip. Although an 1888 directory lists her at 76 Eldridge (probably a typo for 70), profession of “beer” and the widow of Jacob. In June of 1896, she went to jail for six months for keeping a “disorderly house.” Beer clearly wasn’t bringing in enough cash.

70 Eldrige does not seem to be there anymore, though 12 Delancey is. It’s bottom floor is a bar. Perhaps Ms. Thompson also ran a beerhouse, with some women available for her customers.

In any case, be careful of those trashy novels. If you should take the risk of reading one and get the idea of a trip to New York, resist! If you should find yourself in New York, after reading a trashy novel, maybe it would be best to keep out of the Lower East Side.

  1. On the other hand, talking about one woman whose husband vanished, it was brought up that some women in late nineteenth-century New York City turned to prostitution to support themselves.  ↩
  2. Whose legal name was probably not Mamie, but then there’s that unfindable family name.  ↩

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