Who was Ada?


Last week we talked about the changes in gender dynamics at the end of the 19th century. We touched on working women, the changes in how women were both viewed and viewed themselves, and the New Woman. We also talked about children and families and their role. This week, our goal is to dive deeper into the connections we can make between what we know and Ada’s murder, using more scholarly sources and making more direct connections to Ada.

Firstly, we are going to talk about some statistics more relevant to the case, about working women in 1883 from Carroll Wright’s study based in Boston, Mass. After that, we are going to dive a little deeper into who Ada Brown was, where she came from, how that impacted what happened to her, her employment, and how we can connect all of this knowledge to our contextual understanding of the murder. Then, we are going to talk about the struggles that single working mothers face in the midst of the changing gender dynamics. Finally, we hope to get a better grasp on Ada and whether or not she actually is representative of and can be considered a “New Woman.”


Low-Income, Working Women

This week, I am going to try and further dig into the topic of low-income working women in this time period by using a study done by Carroll Wright.

The study completed by Carroll Wright “The Working Girls of Boston” looked into the working woman in 1883. Carroll’s study found that the average age for a working woman was 16. Most households of widowed mothers had the children working if they were old enough to, in order to bring in more money for the household.  Carroll also found that the average woman worked from 8am-6pm, about the same hours as their male counterparts. One of the most popular jobs was housekeeping, which is what we believed Ada did when she was married. Housekeepers made an average of $5 a week, making the average yearly income about $260.  Women who were part of the study felt that “The work they were doing was worth more than they were receiving for it and they should have better wages.” (Wright, pg. 93)

Like I stated last week, it is nearly impossible for a woman to live and support herself and her child/children strictly on her income. It was reported from Carroll Wright that “Other women, left with children by the death of husbands or otherwise, report that if it were not for their parents, they could not support their children on the wages they earn.” (Wright, pg 113) We know that Ada became a widow two years before her death, so this could be why she was with Harrison. She had a daughter, and even if she was working, she was not able to fully support herself and Lena.

A woman in this time period was at a distinct disadvantage if she was a single mother. Ada was basically forced into working, she did not have the choice to become part of the workforce.  If women were widowed, they oftentimes tried to live with a member of their family like a Brother, Sister, Aunt, Mother etc. that could be another source of income. Like we have stated multiple times, women made significantly less money than their male counterparts, even if they were at the same job working the same hours. We are unsure of Ada’s relationship with her family, thus we don’t know if she tried to reach out to them for help with raising her daughter and potentially for another source of income after her husband had passed away.



Ada Brown: Who is she?  

As we all know, Frances Adelaide Kinney, also known as Ada Brown was a widow and single mother. My goal this week is to break down who Ada Brown really is. I will explore different parts of her life, and attempt to decipher her character. Ada brown was born in 1852 with the name Frances Adelaide Kinney. Her middle name became her primary name assumably at birth. According to the 1870 Census, Ada signed her name at 17 as a resident under her father Patrick Keeney. It is important to note that there is a large discrepancy between the spellings of the last names. Her parents are immigrants of Ireland, also discovered from the 1870 Census, and the speech barriers between nations cause differences. Throughout my research, there has been almost four ways to spell the last name, even if the census specifically shows the proper spelling, but I digress. She at 17, lived at home with her parents and 7 siblings. The eldest sibling being, 18 and youngest 6. Her father is 50 years old at this time and her mother is 43. The ages can explain more than just the amount of life they lived. First of all, we can tell the marriage habits. The woman is younger, but not anything out of the ordinary for today, but this is not the time period were looking at. Irish men and women could legally marry at the 12 and 14. The females could be wed at 12 and the males at 14, but the average age was about 20 (Maggie Land Blanck). It was also very common for women to become pregnant soon after the marriage and “keep house”. (This means to be a stay at home mom.) With this information and understanding of the customs, Ada’s mother began having children at the age of 25, nothing out of the ordinary for the time period.

In her early life, Ada attempted to be a painter, but found no substantial luck in her journeys. This was not uncommon for many women. According to the novel, Cheap Amusements, “…daughters of immigrants increasingly refused to don the maid’s uniform” (Peiss, 39). There was an  urge to be something different, which also came with the age of the “New Woman”. Unfortunately, she had given up this dream around the same time she met William Brown and followed in her mother’s footsteps. Either there was no work in painting or being a wife at home became more important.

Ada then met William S. Brown and had her daughter Lena at 27. At this point, she was living in Hartford with William, a Massachusetts native. Lena was born in 1879, and Ada did not get married until 1881. With this information, we can make the claim that Lena was born out of wedlock, which as I talked about two weeks ago is not a good thing for multiple reasons. The first being that marriage was conventional and evidence of premarital sex left room for the family to shame the woman. Second, asylums for children did not usually accept children out of wedlock, and if they did the records were not clear for them. At this point in Ada’s life she is “keeping house” as her mother did and William was a painter. Living with them, was Ada’s nephew Charles Thompson. The interesting difference between the 1880 Census and the 1870 Census is that Ada’s birthplace changes to Massachusetts. There is a clear sense of change within Ada, wanting to maybe change her roots and not associate herself with the family that just shamed her for having Lyna (Lena). Her being shunned by the family is also evident when her relatives close by would not come and take care of Lyna after her mother’s death. On May 3, 1882 William passed away, Charles either left or had taken the home leaving Ada alone and homeless. Somewhere along the lines, she met George Gregory, a clerk at a tea business also residing in Hartford. She also met Martin Harrison, a car driver, living at 126 Market in Hartford. Here at Sheldon St, is where she met her demise with these two men.

Ada is clearly a woman who did not live by the deeply rooted societal roles. Sam will be diving more into this topic as a whole as well. Ada seemed to go through an identity crisis by changing her birthplace from Connecticut, to her husband’s home state of Massachusetts. With all of this information, I will attempt to decipher what had happened October 20, 1884. Ada, a second generation Irish woman,  had found herself a widow and no where to go. She then found  men who would help her, and sustain her living because as we know, women did not work too often in this time period. According to Kathy Peiss, “…domestic service remained the foremost occupation of single women” (39). Daughters of immigrants especially, found themselves in the home caring for the husband and children. When her husband died, she was forced to find her financial support somewhere else. Harrison, having fought with Ada for the $10, could be exactly that. Peiss goes further in saying that, “..young women looked to men for financial assistance…” (54). The assistance that was given was meant to be returned and in a time of crisis, violence erupted. It is not one instance that caused her death, there are aspects of her life that lead her there to that moment, unfortunately, it was a deadly one.


Ada Brown: New Woman?

Last week, I indicated that Ada Brown fit the mold of the “New Woman.” However, after further digging my conclusions have altered. Even though Ada was probably influenced and impacted by the “New Woman” movement, Ada Brown, herself, was likely not a “New Woman.” These women were actively searching for independence and self-sufficiency, they pursued higher education, and women’s rights. Although, Ada could have had these thoughts, there is no compelling evidence to point to the conclusion that she represented what the “New Woman” stood for.

According to Linda Gordon, author of Pitied but Not Entitled, writes that single motherhood is not a new phenomenon in the 1800’s, however, it is growing and it can often be an urbanized issue, because cities tend to produce more single mothers (Gordon 6). Welfare is a negatively stigmatized program that refers to aiding the poor. Gordon connects the stigma of welfare with single motherhood, stating that “hostility to the poor and hostility to deviant family forms reinforce each other,” (Gordon 6). Poverty is often referred to as feminized because mothers who raise children alone are overrepresented in the poor.

Turn of the century issues arose with single motherhood due to the changing gender dynamics at the time, and the altering of traditionally patriarchal gender roles. According to Gordon, in some ways patriarchal communities controlled men, as well as women. Men were deterred from leaving their families because it was their manly duty to provide for their wife and children.

As families moved into growing cities and away from rural life, the Industrial Revolution and urbanization led men to mostly work wage-based jobs. Therefore, if a wife lost her husband, she lost his income and was left alone, without a way to support either herself or her children. Widowed women like Ada Brown, were left with few choices. They either had to find another man to marry or find a job to support themselves. Traditionally women did not work and if they did, they made significantly less money than their male counterparts, in low-income jobs.

Gordon also writes about welfare reformers who developed programs with the intention of deterring single motherhood by “providing incentives for proper and stable families,” (Gordon 7). Understanding that this was the social dynamic that Ada faced, it makes sense that she might have felt pressure to remarry or to be in a relationship with a male for more stability and support.

It appears more likely that Ada sought employment as a means to survive, rather than with the “New Women” goals in mind. There is no evidence to suggest that she pursed higher education, fought for women’s rights or was employed in an uncharacteristically female occupation. (For example, she was not a lawyer or doctor or in any sort of, typically male, professional occupation.)

However, when it comes to sex and traditional female morality, Ada might fit more so in line with the changing gender dynamics. Traditional gender roles state that a man and a woman marry and then have sex, within the marriage. In this, sex is an act that happens within the confines of a marriage. The press, when discussing Ada and her murder case, conclude that she is an immoral woman (Dossier). This is likely because she is an impoverished single mother, living with a man who she is not married to, and may be in an ongoing relationship with another man as well.

A huge factor that leads me to the conclusion that Ada is not truly a “New Woman” is the impact of class on women during the 1880’s. Stansell writes that upper and middle class women viewed themselves as “moral guardians” of their families, themselves, and their nations. However, laboring women differed in the sense that their existence, as poor, working class, single mothers went against the expectations of a woman’s role in society.

Basically, as I see it, there is more than one reason why a woman, at this time, would seek employment. Both her class and background greatly impacted these reasons. More upper and middle class women sought higher education and employment for the sake of independence and self-sufficiency. These women were more in line with my understanding of “New Women,” waking up to the patriarchal society and challenging it, fighting for their rights as women. However, women like Ada, widowed single mothers, who worked for their own survival and to support their children, were very different women. I do not think that Ada had the privilege of choice when it came to becoming a working women. Ada appears to have become one by circumstance, rather than ideology.






Blanck, Maggie. “Customs in Ireland, Birth, Marriage and Death.” Customs in Ireland, Birth, Marriage and Death. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.


Gordon, Linda. Pitied but Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare, 1890-1935. New York: Free, 1994. Print.


Peiss, Kathy Lee. Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-century New York. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1986. Print.


Stansell, Christine. City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860. New York: Knopf, 1986. Print.
Wright, Carroll D. The Working Girls Of Boston [From the Fifteenth Annual Report Of The Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor, for 1884]. Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co., State Printers. 1880


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