Sarah Hoover Weddle: Lost to a “Criminal Operation”

“State’s Attorney Worthington is investigating the death of Mrs. Sarah E. Weddle, widow, who died near Myersville April 14th. Certain discoveries have aroused the suspicion of the authorities.”

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Although this advert looks innocent enough, terms such as “special strong for obstinate cases” and “will quickly bring about the desired result” indicate these pills were meant to induce miscarriages.

Dayton (Ohio) Herald, 25 February, 1903: “Mrs. Amy Snyder, 52, the wife of Aaron Snyder, an expressman, of 223 South Montgomery Street, was arrested Tuesday afternoon by Sergeant Fair and assistants, on suspicion of having performed a criminal operation on Miss May Smith, 19, of Xenia, which resulted in her death.”

Louisville (Kentucky) Courier-Journal, 26 March, 1903: “Miss Stella H. Stork, a pretty young woman whose home was at Huntingburg, Ind. … died at the private hospital of Dr. Sarah Murphy, 1018 West Chesnut Street, Tuesday afternoon. While peritonitis was the direct cause of death, this was brought on by a criminal operation….. George Lemp, a Southern Railway conductor, who came to Louisville with the girl last week, was arrested … but denied he had any knowledge of the girl’s condition.”

Scranton (Pennsylvania) Tribune, 27 March, 1903: “The sudden death of Mrs. Martha E. Rosengrant, widow of the late William Rosengrant, was the occasion of an inquest by Coroner Tibbins…. Mrs. Rosengrant was found dead in her bed at her home on Foundry Street on Wednesday morning…. The verdict of the jury was that Martha Rosengrant came to her death from a criminal operation performed upon her by someone to the jury unknown.”

Frederick (Maryland) News, 30 April, 1903: “The people of Myersville and vicinity are excited by the discovery of what appears to be evidence that the death of Mrs. Sarah E. Weddle, which occurred April 14, was due to a criminal operation. Mrs. Weddle was sick for about two weeks before her death.”

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When she died during the quickening Spring of 1903, widow Sarah Weddle left five young children as orphans. The lingering evidence shows she was one of the uncounted thousands of Victorian and Edwardian women who, when they fell pregnant, turned to “female pills”—herbal abortifacients advertised openly albeit with coded language—or to “criminal operations,” as illegal abortions were termed in the press.

Continue reading “Sarah Hoover Weddle: Lost to a “Criminal Operation””

Our Darlings Rest Amongst the Flowers that Bloometh Over There

Mourning images from my collection.

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In this early 1/4th-plate daguerreotype, taken about 1845, a sad, proud widow peers at us through what seems to be a hole in time.
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The sitter wears a white widow’s cap, a hair mourning brooch, and jet bracelets. The back of the plate is inscribed with the numbers “48-36-42,” the meaning of which is unknown. This 1/6th-plate daguerreotype dates to circa 1855.
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This hand-tinted 1/9th-plate Ambrotype was created in about 1858. The beautiful woman so stunningly colored by the photographer is almost certainly not a widow like the two ladies above. Widows, even in deepest mourning, wore white crape caps, bonnet ruches, or other touches of white, to indicate their status.

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The Memory of Mourning

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An albumen cabinet card copy of an earlier mourning image. It bears the mark “Broadbent & Taylor, 914 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. S. Broadbent, W. Curtis Taylor.” Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This is a copy of an earlier photo–certainly either an ambrotype or daguerreotype. Photographers Broadbent and Taylor, or whoever owed this image, drew strengthening lines around the woman’s shoulders and head, as well as around her eyes and possibly lips. On the actual cabinet card, these lines are not really noticeable, but when blown up, they become quite evident.

The sitter wears fashions that date the photograph to the 1850s. She wears a mourning brooch at her throat, its hair compartment and black enamel clearly visible. I have a similar brooch in my collection. The otherwise lovely piece below suffers from moisture damage. At some point in the past, water or humidity seeped into the brooch and now the hair is a shade of green, dyed by the metals that surround it. Ω

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Gold and black lacquer double mourning brooch inscribed “J & L Howlett,” circa 1855.

“There Lived an Old Man in Our Little Place”

Every village has its quirky characters. My own, Myersville, Maryland, was once home to a cantankerous teacher, reverend, and still-breaker nicknamed “Buffalo Bill.”

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Main Street and Wolfsville Road, Myersville, Maryland, circa 1905. Courtesy Myersville and Wolfsville Area Historical Society.

Myersville—Emphasizing the need for lights in the streets of Myersville, there was a stoning encounter on Saturday night, when Robert J. Ridgely, a school teacher at Burkittsville and a resident of Myersville, was stoned by four or five young men of the town. Reports have it that Mr. Ridgely stoned back, but as the teacher could not be located this morning, this could not be verified.

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Frederick News, 6 October, 1915

Mr. Ridgley has an ugly cut over one eye, which bled profusely, and Wilber Shepley, one of those in the in the party stoning Mr. Ridgley, also has a cut, probably inflicted by a stone, although one report has it that Mr. Shepley sustained the cut by striking a telephone pole, while running.

“The stoning incident has aroused a number of people in the town, and it is stated that there is a stronger sentiment for electric lights, many residents claiming the affair would not have happened had the town been well lighted.”

The victim in this article, Robert Johnson Ridgley was born in Myersville in January 1867 to William Worth Ridgley (1822-1901) and his wife Martha Matilda Johnson (1834-1920). (Note: The family name is spelled variously as Ridgely, Ridgeley, and Ridgley. For consistency only, I am using the latter.) William Ridgley was well-known in the area for his success as a farmer although he was blind. His tenacity and determination were inherited by his son.

As an adult, Robert Ridgley received a scholarship from the Maryland State Normal School in Baltimore, later rechristened Towson University, starting his studies in September 1895. Before that, he was a teacher at Loys Public School. After his father’s death, he lived with his mother and a servant, Susan Shank, the latter of whom worked for Ridgley until at least until 1940. Keeping a long-term, live-in servant of this type is a positive testimony to Ridgely’s character, which was sometimes maligned by his fellow Myersvillians.

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This is His Orphan: What it Shows and What it Doesn’t

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Widow and Orphan, Albumen Carte de Visite, Circa 1868. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This English carte de visite (CDV) is one of the most popular in my collection, if Flickr views and Pinterest re-pins equate to evidence, that is. It shows a young British widow—identifiable as such by the white ruching on her black bonnet—squatting in the background, having just propelled her black-clad daughter toward the photographer. The widow stares forward forlornly, her hand over her mouth, indicating without words her shock and concern for their future. It is a candid, painfully honest pose, and one rarely seen in types of images. She is no “Hidden Mother,” but a vital element of a tableau meant to convey the message, “This is his orphan.”

The reverse stamp on the CDV reads “T. Bennett, Photographer, 46 Foregate Street and Church Street, Malvern.” According to research conducted by the creator of Photographers of Great Britain and Ireland, 1840-1940, Thomas Bennett “opened his first studio in Worcester in 1856. At different times, he operated at five studios in Worcester and three in Malvern under his own name and the business continued under the name of Bennett & Son and Bennett & Sons until at least 1916.”

“The 1861 census records the [Bennett] family living at his shop at 46 Foregate, Worcester, where he is described as a Lay Clerk (of the church) and photographer. His firm Thomas Bennett and Son is thought to have been established about 1856. His branch in Great Malvern was possibly the second photographic studio” in that town—this information gleaned from the Malvern Records Office. Bennett threw open the doors of his Malvern studio in 1868 and the CDV of mother and daughter could not have been taken long afterward.

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When Soap Was Taxed, Bathing Was Optional, and Dying Was Too Expensive

I have decided to occasionally reblog the excellent content of other history blogs. This site, Unremembered: A History of the Famously Interesting and Mostly Forgotten, is made of the same stuff as Your Dying Charlotte; to wit: “Let these people and these stories not be forgotten.”

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By Ken Zurski

Beginning in 1712 and continuing for nearly 150 years, the British monarchy used soap to raise revenue, specifically by taxing the luxury item. See, at the time, using soap to clean up was considered a vain gesture and available only to the very wealthy. The tax, of course, was on the production of soap and not the participation. But because of the high levy’s imposed, most of the soap makers left the country hoping to find more acceptance and less taxes in the new American colonies.

Cleanliness was not the issue, although it never really was. Soap itself had been around for ages and used for a variety of reasons not necessarily associated with good hygiene. The Gauls, for example, dating back to the 5th Century B.C., made a variation of soap from goat’s tallow and beech ashes. They used it to shiny up their hair, like…

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