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The Newspaper Boom of the 19th Century

Newspapers were booming around the 19th century The 1840 U.S. census counted around 1,631 newspapers and by 1850 the number was 2,526, with a total annual circulation of half a billion copies for a population of a little under 23.2 million people. Most of those were the weekly newspaper. 

The daily newspapers went from around 24 in 1820 to 138 in 1840 and to 254 in 1850. 

By mid century the Big city dailies had become major manufacturing enterprises, with highly capitalized printing plants, scores of employees, and circulations in the tens of thousands, and the small town weeklies, with hand-operated presses, two or three employees, and circulations in the hundreds were thriving as well.

The U.S. population was growing and spreading out to new regions distant from the old seaboard settlements. As new towns formed, new institutions including newspapers—blossomed. An example, Indiana, had only one newspaper in 1810 but seventy-three by 1840. 

Some causes of the newspaper boom involved public policy choices at the highest level of government. Not only did the federal government choose not to tax newspapers or advertising, as many governments of Europe did. The federal policy was the opposite: to subsidize newspapers through the postal system. Newspapers received preferential postage rates in the mail, and newspaper publishers were allowed to exchange their papers with other publishers without any postage at all. The exchange system gave small newspapers free access to news from nearly everywhere.

Relating this back to the Ada Brown case; with newspapers becoming more widely distributed and available to the general public, it meant that the papers that printed this story (such as the Hartford Courant and the New York Times) were reaching a much larger audience. While for the most part this is a good thing, it also has some downsides to it. By attracting the attention of the public, it can often lead to scenarios where, during the trial for both Harrison and Gregory, the courtroom had to turn away crowds of people that no doubt became interested in the case after reading it in the paper. Without the newspaper boom to increase the presence of newspaper, it is unlikely that this case would have received the amount of attention it did for the time and would have fallen into obscurity like other murder cases at the time.



Melissa, Zach, Sophia, Zack

Elena Brown and Her Husband

Elena Brown was born on October 13th of 1878 (attached is her birth certificate). Her father, William Brown, was 41 at the time of her birth, while her mother, Ada, was only 23. Her father William died shortly after in 1882 and Ada followed; passing in 1884, leaving Elena an orphan at 7 years old. She was registered to the Hartford Orphanage Asylum. After being there for only a year, Elena was adopted in January of 1885 by Thomas and Katherine Killian of Hartford, CT. 

Elena married William Lewis Brown when she was 18 years old and he was 21 years old. They married in New Britain, CT at William’s parents house at the address of 263 Kelsey St, New Britain CT. William and Elena’s marriage license states that they were both white, American, and that this was both of their first marriages. William Lewis Brown and Elena later conceived two children together. Their first child was Alice Pearl Brown and the second was William Mortimer Brown. They filed for divorce in 1907 when William Lewis Brown neglected his duties in marriage and left his family. Desertion, or abandonment, was a common reason for divorce at the time. In 1911 in Hartford, there were 97 divorces, and 61 of them were granted because of desertion. Their divorce wasn’t finalized until 1911 and Elena was left with custody of their two children. 

Elena went on to marry William Newman in June of 1912 in New Haven and they went on to live in Bridgeport, CT for the rest of their lives. William Newman died in 1942. According to William Newman’s obituary, he died suddenly in his home at the age of 57; cause of death assumed to be old age. He was employed by the Bridgeport Post Office for nearly a quarter of a century. Elena changed her last name to his, as evidenced by his obituary, as it states he was survived by his wife, Elena Newman. It also includes that he was survived by a son, William M Jr., his stepson, but fails to include Elena’s daughter, Alice Pearl in the obituary. William Newman is buried in Zion Hill Cemetery in Hartford. 

Elena lived for several more years, until March 12, 1951 when she died at age 73 in Bridgeport, CT from a coronary occlusion, or in other words, blood flow through the coronary artery of her heart was blocked. She is buried at Zion Hill Cemetery in Hartford with her parents, Ada and William.

Justine, Claudia, Ewelina, and Alexa

The Value of Money in the Late 19th Century

Hartford itself was already known as a city that has a massive gap between the rich and the poor, there really wasn’t much middle ground. It wasn’t until 1938 that they even established a minimum wage, 25 Cents an hour. A big problem that was being seen and part of the reason for the massive wage gap was because of the number of immigrants that were working for people, the immigrants rarely earned wages and if they did they were very little, this left less jobs for the people who had been living in the city for a longer period of time.

Establishing the economic state of lower class workers is essential to discussing Ada Brown’s murder because there were several financial factors that were integral to comprehending the situation. The initial fight that led to Brown’s death began when Harrison asked Brown to give him $10. Calculating for inflation, this amount in 1884 has the equal buying power of $256 in today’s time, making this a significant sum of money. According to the Coroner’s Report, Harrison had previously given Ada Brown his week’s wages, $18 (worth $461 in 2021 dollars). The Hartford Daily Courant article published on January 8, 1885 states that E. S. Goodrich testified as Harrison’s boss at the Horse railroad company, where Harrison worked as a “driver.” This also may have been another term for an engineer at that time. Salary reports from the 1880s show that engineers made about $3.81 a day in Northeast cities ($97 in our time), and $18 could’ve easily equaled a week’s wages. However, this can also be used to determine Harrison’s socioeconomic class.

In comparison to other laborers, Harrison made a decent amount of money. The average daily wage of a New England worker was $2.34, equal to the buying power of $60 in 2021 (Coelho and Shepherd). Harrison would’ve made much more than most of the other laborers in Hartford, and likely made more than Gregory, who apparently worked as a waiter on Market Street. Though there isn’t much recorded information on waiters’ wages, the average wage of an unskilled laborer in New England was $1.60, only about $41 today, and was significantly lower than Harrison’s salary. In order to determine the financial situation of the individuals involved in this case, typical living costs in 1880s Hartford must also be factored in.

The wage gap between the rich and the poor could not have been depicted better in Hartford than when taking a look at the drastic differences between housing and living costs of the socioeconomic classes of Hartford at the time. In the decade of Ada Brown’s murder Hartford had been a destination for famous authors like Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe to build in the American High Gothic style on plots of land ranging over several acres. Houses like this would have cost from $40,000 to $45,000 at the time of building the Twain house in 1873. (The Mark Twain House Museum.) This would be converted with inflation to a 2021 value of over one million dollars. This is a little different than the average cost of rent per month in the city of Hartford could have ranged from $4 to $10 a month which would come out to be at most $256/month.

Looking at and analyzing the cost of living in Hartford and the wage gaps between different socioeconomic classes of Hartford, during the 1880s allows us to have a deeper understanding of the value of the dollar. Understanding the values of living costs and wages is important for this case because the murder of Ada Brown occured during a dispute between her and Harrision on her third floor apartment over a payment of $10. For the average New Englander working for $2.34 the value of $10 is a lot more than for the societal elites building gothic mansions in Hartford during the time.

Ben, Sam, and Joe


Gender and the Media on Crime

In the 19th century, women were often dismissed as a topic to discuss, especially in newspapers concerned with crime. Although women did commit crime, newspapers only briefly mentioned female perpetrators, often stating the offender, the crime, and the sentence (Rhodes). These patterns of brief reports, however, did not remain consistent with crimes done by males or people of color. As the business of newspapers increased in the 1830’s and 1840’s, newspapers often became a resource for details about crime, even becoming a weekly column (Rhodes p.16). Rural communities especially focused on more brutal and violent crimes (Rhodes), possibly to attract a larger audience for shock factor and gossip, in order to spread more word of the newspapers. In these newspapers, not only were women mentioned only briefly in crime, but they were humiliated if they did not meet the gender roles of femininity. For example, in terms of adultery, the women were more brutally shamed to have violated the expectations of marriage, being held more accountable than men. Additionally, women who commit crimes were thought to have a mental illness, yet there was often no mention of treatment (Fridel). Nonetheless, newspapers heavily influenced the extremes of societal views concerning race, gender, and class (Rhodes). 

In respect to how common crimes were in addition to sentences, it is important to indicate that men are historically most often the victims and the perpetrators for crime (Bureau of Justice Statistics; Fridel and Fox). When men did commit crime, it was often to prove superiority whereas women would often commit crimes in defense (Fridel and Fox). Furthermore, according to the Chicago Tribune in the late 19th century, the top cause for murders was due to “quarreling” (Chicago Tribune), a situation where one often tries to be superior over another. Out of the 6,971 murders reported in the US for the year of 1893, 2,937 of the murders were listed as quarreling for the cause (Chicago Tribune). As for punishments, most were unlisted, but there were 107 executions for crimes that year: murder often the reason (Chicago Tribune), but other executions seem racially charged or based on gender. For example, a person of color was executed for insulting a woman, and also for racial profiling, yet according to the list of crimes, no white men were charged with execution for these crimes. Additionally, women were often executed for infanticide, yet the article had not specified if this was accidental or not (Chicago Tribune). Although these reports come from 1893 and not 1884, it still gives insight to the way crime was discussed in the media during the late 19th century. However, crimes such as these may be difficult to further research due to the lack of media coverage for female crime.

Connected with the murder of Ada Brown, we see that it may be difficult to retrieve information about Ada specifically due to the fact that she did not meet the expectations of society. As Ada was looked down upon for having sexual relations outside of marriage, it was common for women to either not get much coverage in the newspapers or to get scruitinized. Since Ada Brown was murdered whilst being a “fallen woman,”  the amount of media to report on her may have been a debate. Additionally, as Ada was murdered over what began as an argument (specifically listed as jealousy), (Hartford Courant) since quarreling was a common cause of murder (Chicago Tribune), media coverage may have also been limited as well. Moving forward, we can attempt to further discover the motives behind the crime in respect to gender as males often commit crime to prove superiority (Fiedel and Fox), which could have been the case in the murder of Ada Brown.

Works Cited:

Fridel, Emma E., and James Alan Fox. “Gender Differences in Patterns and Trends in U.S. Homicide, 1976–2017.” Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., Publishers, 11 Mar. 2019, http://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/vio.2019.0005. 

“Gender.” Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=955. 

“With a World of Tears”: Women Criminals and the Use of Mercy and Femininity.” Troublesome Women: Gender, Crime, and Punishment in Antebellum Pennsylvania, by ERICA RHODES HAYDEN, Penn State University Press, University Park, Pennsylvania, 2019, pp. 15–43. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/j.ctv14gp2sq.5. Accessed 1 Mar. 2021.

1 Jan 1893,30 Chicago Tribune at Newspapers.com. Retrieved March 2, 2021 from https://www.newspapers.com/image/349889636/?terms=murder&match=1 
21 October 1884, Hartford Courant at Newspapers.com. Retrieved March 2,2021 from https://www.newspapers.com/image/369480149/?terms=fallen%20woman%20Ada%20Brown%20hartford&match=1

By Julia, Lily, Lindsey and Jayme

The 19th Century Jury System

Kylie, Daniela, and Andrea

    In the beginning of the 19th century, the jury system in the United States had strict requirements that enabled certain groups of people to be chosen to participate in a court case. First, the Constitution was significantly enforced in a court environment, especially through examining the 6th and 7th Amendments. (“Seventh Amendment” n.d.)  These constitutional amendments ensure that different court guidelines/members are reflected in a fair trial (an impartial jury, lawyers, etc.) and that a jury system is allowed to fairly have a role within a court setting. (“Sixth Amendment” n.d.) The enforcement of these amendments stayed consistent throughout the entire 19th century, and were a centralized idea that reflected in the court system. Additionally, the beginning of the 19th century specifically focused on jury members that consisted of those who had a higher wealth status, and a strong position with society. (“PEREMPTORY CHALLENGES AT THE TURN OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY: DEVELOPMENT OF MODERN JURY SELECTION STRATEGIES AS SEEN IN PRACTITIONERS’ TRIAL MANUALS.” 27). More specifically, those who obtained property and were freeholders were regarded as eligible to be jury members, whereas those without property association were commonly disregarded to be a part of the jury. (Smith 1996, 57) This, however, began to become more relaxed in the latter half of the 19th century, when strict enforcement of property association for jury members became more alleviated. (“PEREMPTORY CHALLENGES AT THE TURN OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY: DEVELOPMENT OF MODERN JURY SELECTION STRATEGIES AS SEEN IN PRACTITIONERS’ TRIAL MANUALS.” n.d. 29) However, the more relaxed enforcement in the second half of the century did not change a lot of the perspectives and opinions of how a jury looked to be constructed. 

    After jury members are considered for the position in a trial, there are various steps that the 19th century implemented to precisely choose different members to participate in court. A study on 19th century court systems from Stanford University states: “first, the jury pool is drawn from the community at large. Second, the judge—or, less often, the parties—conducts voir dire to detect bias. Third, the parties exercise their for-cause and peremptory challenges.” (Deitch 2018, 1067) Through this text, it is evident that there were various parameters used to conduct an examination of each jury member. It is evident that the general community of the case had a role, which gave a more public opinion to who they believed would be eligible. Then, the judge and different sides of the case held an examination of bias, which indicates a significant role within members of a specific case itself. This gives the role of the court some authority and multiple-sided perspectives on how the jury will look. 

    In the case of Ada Brown, the jury members of her murder case consisted of 12 members. This was the norm of the 19th century, as it was formulated that the jury would be made up of 12 members for each court case. (Lindsman 2010, 35) In Ada’s murder case specifically, the jury members consisted of the following: Henry Ensign and Frederick P. Lepard of Hartford, John C. Stoughton and George W. Brown of South Windsor, Joseph Fairfield and Ashbel C. Harrison of Suffield, Franklin G. Whitmore of West Hartford, B. H. Atwater, Eben C. Woodruff, and Sherwood F. Raymond of Berlin, William H. Filley of Windsor, and Joseph N. Bishop of Avon. (“The Ada Brown Murder” 1885) In examining the 12 members of Ada’s case, it is clear that all of the participants are men. They are also White, and held consistent middle and high-class statuses. More specifically, the participants generally worked in an occupation of status within 19th century society, and may have held jobs such as farmers, merchants, real estate brokers, etc. Additionally, for various men within this jury system, they would be one of the only (or the only) person working for the household. This fabricated their family dynamic to typically have their wives stay home and keep house, while their children may have gone to school, kept house with their mother, or held some sort of side job. Also, for various families of the jurors, it has been found that the individuals were educated and could read, write, and speak English. (Ancestry n.d.) Overall, the members of this jury significantly held positions of power within society that reflected traditional participation within a jury system. That is to say that the beginning of the 19th century’s emphasis on owning land and having a position of status in society as a jury member did not really go away in the later years of the century, even though the enforcement of those ideas did become more alleviated. By understanding the jury members in this case, many of their positions as farmers and other occupations would have most likely reflected in them having land and property, especially if they had the abilities to keep their wives and children going to school and/or staying home. 

    A perspective to consider about the lifestyles and identities of the jury men featured in Ada’s case would be the underlying biases they may have held. As previously mentioned, choosing jury members did include a process of which individuals were observed and evaluated, with one of the criteria being checking for bias. However, the perception of bias may be significant to look at here. In other words, there may have been an examination of bias on the jury members based on personal experiences with those involved in the trial. However, what about biases they may have had about areas of identity? For instance, how does a White Male jury make a decision on the case of White males who are accused of murdering Ada (Martin Harrison and George Gregory)? In this time period especially, the personal beliefs and opinions of those within the court scene (such as the jury) may have been looked at with more influence than areas such as law enforcement and a nonpartisan view of a case. Therefore, it is true that there may not be bias of the jury members in terms of if they knew Harrison and/or Gregory in a more personal manner. However, it is important to look at how bias may have embedded itself in other ways, such as ideas about identity and status that jury members may have looked at with those accused of the crime. Additionally, this is interesting to consider as well because of the verdict of Ada’s case. Harrison was charged with manslaughter, and Gregory was charged with assault with an intent to kill. (“Got off With a Light Sentence” 1885) (“Miscarriage of Justice” 1885) In this case, however, it is important to make note of the fact that Harrison pleaded guilty of murdering Ada. (“Miscarriage of Justice” 1885) Also, the reason for killing Ada came from areas of jealousy and frustration. (“Miscarriage of Justice” 1885) Therefore, this verdict does pose a question on the overall processes of the trial. Could the lesser sentences have come from a bias from the jury? Considering how the jury was made up and the biases they may have had about the men involved in the case, it is definitely an important point of reasoning to examine. 

     Overall, the “so what” of this post is really looking at how the selection of jury members can matter to understanding the verdict of a case. Especially because of the longstanding ideas of how a jury was perceived to look, it can be evident that bias could have played a role in the court’s procedures. This also brings in larger discussions about the true fairness of court systems, and how bias could have easily gotten in the way of handling different charges. Overall, the perceptions of bias (that could have specifically stemmed from ideas about status and areas of identity) were not as explicitly examined with regards to how a jury was made up in the 19th century. These situations are areas of concern, especially because the outcomes of a trial could have been articulated in ways that did not do a case justice. 


Ancestry® | Genealogy, Family Trees & Family History Records, n.d. 


Deitch, Brittany L. “The Unconstitutionality of Criminal Jury Selection.” William and Mary Bill of 

Rights Journal, May 2018. 

“Got Off With A Light Sentence.” New York Times , March 12, 1885. 

Landsman, Stephan, and James F. Holderman. “The Evolution of the Jury Trial in 

America.” Litigation 37, no. 1 (2010): 32-37. Accessed March 3, 2021. 


“Miscarriage of Justice.” New York Times, March 10, 1885. 



PRACTITIONERS’ TRIAL MANUALS.” Stanford Law. Stanford Law, n.d. 


“Seventh Amendment .” govinfo.org. Authenticated U.S. Government Information , n.d. 



“Sixth Amendment.” Legal Information Institute. Legal Information Institute. Accessed 

March 3, 2021. https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/sixth_amendment. 

Smith, Douglas G. “The Historical and Constitutional Contexts of Jury Reform.” 

Schorlarlycommons.law.hofstra.edu. Hofstra Law Review, 1996. h

“The Ada Brown Murder.” The Hartford Courant, January 7, 1885. “The Sheldon Street Murder.” Hartford Daily Courant. October 22, 1884.

Yellow Journalism and its Negative Impact on Credibility

Fake news. It’s a term that has been thrown around a lot in these last four years since 2016. The term is about newspapers or other news sources that push lies as fact. However, this is nothing new. The history of fake news goes far back into human history, but the first time it reached widespread public notice/outcry is back in the 19th century. During this time fake news was referred to as yellow journalism. It was called this either as a reference to the yellow paper the newspapers were printed on or possibly as a reference to the Yellow Kid character that ran in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, as Pulitzer was a big part of yellow journalism at the time alongside William Randolph who owned The New York Journal. Yellow journalism reached its height in the lead up to the Spanish-American war, where both newspapers were tainted by all sorts of unsubstantiated claims, sensationalist propaganda, and outright factual errors.

Yellow Journalism and its contemporary fake news have a huge impact when it comes to the news credibility. It leaves people feeling like they can’t trust what they are reading or watching when most of the stories they see are either over exaggerated or made up at certain parts. This can have an even worse effect when it comes to skewing public perception, as it can lead people to believe the wrong thing and take action for something that they don’t know the full truth about. This is especially important when it comes to murder cases like Ada Brown’s, as having the public either not trust what the press is saying or have the public’s perception skewed can lead to some dangerous outcomes such as the public forming a mob on who they think is the killer, but actually their outrage was against the wrong person.


Yellow journalism: The “fake news” of the 19th century. (n.d.). Retrieved February 25, 2021, from https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/yellow-journalism-the-fake-news-of-the-19th-century

Zachary Nielsen, Zachary Joerg, Melissa Bombara, Sophia

Hartford Wealth Distribution in the Late 19th Century

Hartford in 1884 was a thriving community and was known for its wealth because of many innovations that sparked the Gilded Age in the late 19th century. Hartford’s economy was bolstered by the new Colt’s Arms Manufacturing Company, as well as publishing and insurance companies. For the first time in this area, the highest socioeconomic class was incredibly wealthy and gave Hartford a reputation for being a rich city.

In 1855, Samuel Colt built his Arms Manufacturing Company in Hartford, bringing jobs to the city and allowing residents to work in that area. Several railroad companies were also established in the city, providing an influx of jobs and opportunities. Insurance agencies like The Hartford and Aetna established solid employment opportunities for lower class workers. These companies thrived and higher-level owners and managers benefited financially. This also contributed to the emerging middle class, a new concept for many Americans, supported by stable jobs for workers in Hartford and affordable tenement housing. While the richer areas were scattered throughout Hartford, there were still areas of poverty where the lower class resided.

Hartford was well known for being a rich city, but like almost all cities in America it still had its problems and issues that created a lot of problems in the late 19th century. By the end of the 1800s Hartford would’ve been considered an up and coming as well as high tech city. The riverfront of Hartford though, which had thrived for decades earlier on, was now abandoned and most of the city’s population was impoverished. The Connecticut River became an area populated by the working class, highly segregated from the upper class, and unable to cross that socioeconomic barrier.


Crime and Security Forces in the 19th Century

  At the time of Ada Brown’s death (in 1884), a solidified police force in America was a relatively new phenomenon. Having only formed in 1844, the severe lack of resources and training on how to handle crimes through a policing measure were still being articulated.(Lane 1992) Individuals within the police force would also often hold personal beliefs about their experiences with crime. (Lane 1992) In a more local setting, prison records from Wethersfield in the mid-1800’s demonstrated various inmates from Hartford being charged with burglary and theft. (“Wethersfield Prison Records” n.d.) As the majority of them were facing these lower scale crimes, it seems evident that crimes of a more violent nature were not as common or significant. 

    In understanding the police force and some of the prison records from the 19th century in Wethersfield, it seems that there might be two perspectives to be examined here. On one hand, there may have been some conflicting ideas, hesitancy, and/or lack of understanding on violent crimes, which may have reflected in giving individuals lower-scaled sentences. For example, the 19th century continued to implement past ideas about court systems, such as using jury members and witnesses. (“Origins and Foundations of American Courts” 2007) In the case of Ada Brown, her murderer, Martin V.B. Harrison was charged with manslaughter, even after pleading guilty to killing her. This had him serve only a few years in jail, rather than potentially receiving life imprisonment. (“The Murder of Ada Brown: Complications Which Makes The Case A Remarkable One” 1885) In understanding Harrison’s reputation with the town of Hartford and his career, he was a well-respected individual. (“Martin Van Burn Harrison: The Suspected Murder of Ada Brown” 1884) Also, the personal beliefs and values of those involved with the case (such as witnesses) may have overshadowed the reality of what Harrison actually did. In other words, his lesser sentencing may have come about from the court system and police force’s lack of stability and regulation with regards to looking at law enforcement over personal beliefs. 

    Through another perspective, the ideas about violent crimes such as murder reflected in fear and shock amongst individuals. In other words, different areas of the media, literature, and public eye viewed murder as a taboo and fearsome subject. In an article by Jeffrey Mullins on the idea of horror in the 19th century, the text states: “While some of the eighteenth-century sense of the universality of horror would carry forward, by the early nineteenth century the cultural venues for discussing and explaining crime—especially murder—had shifted. Sermons at executions, meant to warn others away from following a path that would lead to a similar fate, became far less popular. Taking their place were crime narratives that emphasized several features of tire act. As Karen Halttunen has stated, the new crime narratives ‘inflated language and graphic treatments of violence and its aftermath in order to shock the reader into an emotional state that mingled fear with hatred and disgust.’” (Mullins 2016, 83-84) Through this text, it is evident that the ideas about violent crimes such as murder were largely associated to graphic ideas and horrifying perspectives noted in various texts, such as literature and the media. Overall, this created a level of emotional fear and shock amongst civilians, in a potential attempt to make them feel inclined not to be violent. However, if a case did turn violent (such as in the murder of Ada Brown), individuals may have been confused on how to approach the crime, especially because it was a very taboo and scary subject. Especially in Hartford at the time of Ada Brown’s murder, this type of crime was not very common and prevalent in the area. (“Murder on Sheldon St!” 1884) Therefore, there may have been some hesitancy and emotional paranoia at the forefront of people’s minds when trying to figure out how to approach the case. 


Lane, Roger. “Urban Police and Crime in Nineteenth-Century America.” Crime and 

Justice 15 (1992): 1-50. Accessed February 24, 2021. 


“Martin Van Burn Harrison: The Suspected Murder of Ada Brown.” Hartford Daily 

Courant. October 29, 1884. 

Mullins, Jeffrey A. “‘Hurrah for Hanging’: Monsters, Irony, and the Contested  

Meaning of Horror for Nineteenth-Century America.” Interdisciplinary  

Humanities 33, no. 3 (Fall 2016): 81–92. Accessed February 24, 2021. 

“Murder On Sheldon St! .” Hartford Courant. October 21, 1884. 

Origins and Foundations of American Courts, July 2007, 1–18. 

           Accessed February 24, 2021. 


“The Murder of Ada Brown: Complications Which Makes The Case A Remarkable 

One.” New York Times. January 12, 1885. 

Wethersfield Prison Records. Accessed February 24, 2021. 


Who are these people?

Ada Brown was born in 1852 in Massachusetts and died horrifically on October 20th of 1884 at just 32 years old. Ada is the child of Mary and Albert Brown and was buried in Zion Hill Cemetery in Hartford. Ada had a daughter named Lena Brown who was born in 1879 in Connecticut. Ada had a husband named WIlliam S. Brown who was also born in Massachusetts however, it does not seem as though Lena is his daughter. There are a lot of ties back to WIlliam Newman as the father of Lena Brown. Lena goes by this shortened name, though her name given at birth was Elena. Lena was married in 1897 to Louis Brown however she filed divorce papers. Ada’s parents were Albert Brown (1804-1892) and Mary Eaton Brown (1806-1881). Alberts parents were John Brown and Sarah Noyes. 

George W. Gregory was was born in about 1858 in CT and in 1860 he lived in the Hartford District 1 in Hartford CT. 

Buried in Zion Hill Cemetery in Hartford- https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/16475111/ada-brown

William S. Brown – husband born in Mass. 

Born: 1838?

Died: 1882

Buried in Zion Hill Cemetery with Ada 

  • May have had another marriage with Ellena Schalk? Lucy Gilbert?

Gender Roles in the 19th Century

Ada Brown was brutally murdered in 1884 by Martin Harrison in Hartford, Connecticut. In order to discuss the murder of Ada Brown and what happened, it is important to address gender roles in the 19th century first. The 19th century was an oppressive era for women as they had very “few political, legal, or social rights and were expected to be subservient to their husbands and fathers in all matters” (Curtis, 2013). Women had few rights, even when married. They were not allowed to vote as politics and government was reserved for men because women were seen as incompetent (“The Campaign for women’s suffrage” 2021). There was a view that women should not work during this time period (“The Campaign for women’s suffrage” 2021). If they did, they had few job options limited to  housekeeping, making textiles, and caring for children, and did not make much money compared to men. In marriage especially, the wife’s rights to money was to be handed over to the husband (“The Campaign for Women’s Suffrage” 2021). However, In an interview with policeman Chief Packard concerning the murder of Ada Brown, Packard claimed that he heard Harrison asking Ada Brown for $10, so that he could go out, although he was not married to her (Newspapers.com). Although men did dominate over women at the time, it is important to further question why Harrison needed the money from a woman, especially from one that he was not married to. According to Ancestry.com, Ada Brown was married to William Brown and her occupation listed was “keeping house” while William was a painter. They had one daughter, Lena Brown, who was cared for by Ada while William was at work supporting the family. William Brown died around 1881, leaving Ada Brown a widow taking care of their daughter. Martin Harrison offered her a job as a housekeeper to support herself and daughter.

In the 19th century, men sexualized women and defined who they are based on their sexual interests. According to Charles E. Rosenberg, the author of “Sexuality, Class and Role in 19th-century America”, women were told that excessive sexuality might cause illness, but a lack of sexual interest may turn her husband to other women (Rosenberg, 2014). On the other hand, manliness was seen in the “Christian Gentleman” persona as men were expected to exercise self-control when it came to sex by not having sex “too frequently” (Rosenberg, 2014).  Society was harsher on women who had more interest and engagement in sexual activity than it was on men who had sex “too frequently.” On another note, men were able to enter marriage and be wiped of any sexual interactions they had before that whereas women were expected to be virgins until marriage (Rosenberg, 2014). Men were seen as needing sex as a way to maintain their health but if women had sex before marriage, they were seen as damaged and undesirable (Rosenberg, 2014). They were referred to as a fallen woman. In newspaper articles that reported on the murder of Ada Brown, they referred to her as a fallen woman. By doing so, they put an image out there that Ada Brown lost her innocence because she had relationships with multiple men outside of marriage. Women in the 19th century, like Ada Brown, faced the conflict of wanting to be progressive and breaking society’s expectations and being seen as a fallen woman. These ideals were derived from the middle, white class and anything that deviated from them were seen as bad (Rosenberg, 2014). Lower classes were seen as people with many children who did not have the ability to control their urges, making them lesser those who could (Rosenberg, 2014). In reality though, the middle and upper classes had access to birth control methods, making it easier to prevent having a lot of children that would drain resources like money (Rosenberg, 2014).

Overall, the general view of women in the 19th century was that women were lesser than men. They weren’t given many rights and were forced into the role that they should not have jobs, but instead should take care of the children, housekeeping, and cooking while the men provided. Men were dominant and were judged differently by society than women were, especially in regard to sexual behavior. A woman’s reputation could be completely ruined if they did not save themselves for marriage or had many children. These ideals were based off  of the middle and upper class, who had access to things such as birth control due to their wealth. Gender roles in the 19th century is helpful to analyze while trying to uncover the truth about Ada Brown’s murder because it sets a tone for how each gender was supposed to act and view others. In this instance, Ada Brown is already seen as lesser because she was a woman but was also seen in a negative manner as she was called a fallen woman.  The two men involved in her murder, Martin Harrison and George Gregory were judged differently than she was because of their gender roles as men.


Ancestry. (n.d.). Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://www.ancestry.com 

Curtis, S. (2013, February 12). How Did the Roles of Women Change Over the Course
of the Late 19th Century? Retrieved February 24, 2021, from
How Did the Roles of Women Change Over the Course of the Late 19th
Century? | samanthacurtis

Life for women at the start of the 19th century – the campaign for women’s suffrage – KS3
history revision – BBC BITESIZE. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2021, from
Life for women at the start of the 19th century – The campaign for women’s suffrage –
KS3 History Revision

Rosenberg, Charles E. “Sexuality, Class and Role in 19th-Century America.” American
Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 2, 1973, pp. 131–153. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2711594.
Accessed 23 Feb. 2021. 

22 Oct 1884, 2 – Hartford Courant At Newspapers.com. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2021,
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Lindsey, Lily, Julia