Masculinity & Manhood: What might have led Martin Harrison to violence?


Harrison: Who was he?

This week I will be conducting a more thorough search of Harrison and his life in order to conclude where he matches up in the aspect of masculinity in the 19th century. While conducting my research, the dossier’s (as Lauren addressed last week) were less than helpful. Again, I looked to Ancestry to aid me in my search for answers.

Born on June, 8th 1834 in Glastonbury, Martin V. Harrison lived his life throughout Connecticut. One of the earliest records I found was a 1850 Federal Census for the town of Glastonbury.  Here, he is 16 years old living with Charles Harrison (49) and Ann Harrison (54), his mother and father and Joseph Harris (35). I am not sure who Joseph Harris is, but given the different last name he must be from a past marriage, but I digress. At 16, according to the census taken October 11th, 1850, Martin was a laborer. This did not seem out of the ordinary, until I found another census taken two days earlier than this one. That census shows Martin Harrison living in what seems to be an orphanage or group home with over 20 other people with whom he is not appeared to be related to. He is 17 here, not 16, and is a polisher by trade. I questioned whether or not Martin Harrison was a common name, but his records matched up. Using this information, I can see that the census’ are not as reliable as we thought.

The next source I found was a city directory that stated that Martin V. Harrison is a car driver and lives at 124 Market. At this point in time, he is 44 years old and the year is 1878. If you remember from last week, 124 Market was also where Gregory and his mother lived. (I will be attempting to make my way to the state library to figure out the significance of 124 Market). Based on the fact Harrison is on his own at 44, and is only a cab driver it may be cheap apartments or a shelter of some kind. The next source I found was the 1880 Census. Harrison is 47 and he is married to Josephine at this point. She is only 27. While she is “keeping house”, Harrison is now a laborer. Josephine was from England and may have been looking for refuge or help of some kind, coming to the States for the first time.

From there, the next source I was able to find  was from the year 1900. It is the twelfth census of the United States for Ellington. He was boarding there is interestingly his occupation, from what I can make out of the handwriting says either Hastler or Hustler. I looked up Hastler and nothing came up (because it is not a word), so I am assuming this man became a hustler. Finally, the 1910 Federal Census revealed that he is an inmate in the town of East Hartford, more specifically Hockanum. This would be interesting to dive into on whether or not there was a jail there.

I find it quite odd that no records came up of Harrison during the time of  murder. I also could not find his other wife (Elizabeth) or Josephine’s death records. I am not sure if it is poor record keeping or this records are deliberately not there. All things considered, the information provided does not allow me to come to the same conclusion that I have with Ada and Gregory. Harrison obviously lived a mysterious life of mischief with the information provided by the dossier’s, but Ancestry did not offer any way to connect the dots.  

The Evolution of Manhood & 19th Century Masculinity (and Male Violence)

This week our goal was to dig deeper into masculinity during the 19th century, to hopefully better understand the actions of the men in Ada Brown’s life, leading up to the violence that resulted in her death. To do this, we researched the evolution of manhood and masculinity and how this evolution may have influenced the men in our case and their actions.

To understand how 19th century masculinity impacted, especially Harrison, we need to first unpack the idea that there was an expectation of men at this time, to be a certain way, similar to the expectations of women to be a certain way. Just like we have discussed in previous weeks, not all women in the late 1800’s were living up to these gender expectations, same thing goes for men, especially working class men. Written by Michael Kimmel, “Manhood in America,” a secondary source on the, often overlooked, history of men as men, was our man source this week. In Kimmel’s book he discusses Sociologist Erving Goffman’s description of the “one complete unblushing male in America,” this was the standard of man that all other men had to hold themselves to (Kimmel 5). It was “a young, married, white, urban, northern, heterosexual, Protestant, father, of college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight, and height…” (Kimmel 5). Any man failing to meet this description often felt, according to Goffman, “unworthy, incomplete, and inferior,” (Kimmel 5). Although both Harrison and Gregory, fit some of the description, both of them fail to fit the entire bill. As failures to meet the expectations of traditionally accepted manhood, they face many struggles trying to prove their masculinity.

With the rise of industrialization, urbanization, technological advancements and immigration, the lives of traditional families, for both genders alike, faced drastic changes (Kimmel 83). This created overcrowded cities with jobless and low income families, headed by men who could not, alone, support their families. In the past, manhood equaled autonomy (Kimmel 83). Men were expected to support themselves and their dependents. But now, with urbanization and industrialization, more and more men were forced into dependency upon their wages. Less skilled working class men did not always make enough money to support their dependents. Sometimes their wives and children would have to work too, making many men feel like they were failing in their manly duties to be the breadwinner.

According to Kimmel, some scholars, like Samuel Elliott, concluded that when a man works a job where he is dependent upon his wages, he becomes a dependent (like women and children) and “the less of a man he becomes,” (Kimmel 84). This mentality, that a working class man, dependent upon his wages, is less of a man and less masculine, led to conflict. These working class men, also did not usually work what were considered to be dignified jobs, especially if it was a job that women could do. This also challenged their masculinity.

Also, an increased number of women started working between 1870 and 1900. The number of females employed went from 1.8 million (1870) to 5.3 million (1900). This was an increase from 16% to 20% of women working. Coming from a societal expectation that men were supposed to work and be the breadwinners, this continued increase in female employment, challenged that typically masculine role.

Kimmel argues that men were overwhelmed by the changes and the challenges they faced when it came to manhood and masculinity. Many men responded with resistance. Also, to some men, the best way to go about dealing with the gender landscape of the time was to “return to earlier historical notions of masculine virtue,” (Kimmel 89). This meant responding to their fear of failing at manhood by living their lives in a way in which they represented masculinity. According to Kimmel, Henry James, author of the novel “The Bostonians” (1885), “captured the anger and resentment many men had come to feel at the turn of the century,” (Kimmel 117). Working class men felt pressure, as a whole, that they lacked masculinity, which Kimmel defined as a set of behavioral traits and attitudes that contrasted femininity (Kimmel 120). They fear failing as men, being seen as feminine, sissy or gay (especially with the increased visibility of the male homosexual community at this time). These fears led men to do whatever they had to do to be seen as masculine.

A common rhetoric of manhood was, Kimmel writes according to historian Ted Ownby, “drinking, brawling, hunting, swearing, and even a revival of dueling as a tonic to restore lost manhood,” (Kimmel 124). These actions represent typical masculine traits of strength, power and independence. The emphasis on things like brawling, dueling and hunting points to male aggression and violence. Brawling and dueling represent expressions of masculinity and masculine responses in times of conflict. With all of this in mind, think about a working class man, like Harrison, while intoxicated, who might have felt his masculinity being questioned or threatened during the altercation with Ada Brown. It does not seem unlikely that he would resort to violence against a woman like Ada, who, herself, failed to fit the mold of female gender roles, to solve the problem and display his masculinity.

Harrison & Masculinity of the 19th Century

With Sam’s information on masculinity in the 19th century, I will attempt to close the gaps on the night of October 1884.  The idea that the more a man is dependent on his wages, “the less of a nam he becomes” mirrors the situation between Harrison and Ada. Harrison was dependent on the ten dollars that Ada had not given back to him, and had left him with what seemed to be no other choice (in his head), but to kill her. We can examine her murder in two ways, he is reacting to her not giving the money or he is reacting to her persona when refusing to not give the money. Sam spoke about returning to earlier historical notions of masculine virtue, meaning a man would react in the face of fear. Harrison stabbing Ada could have been the result of just that. He could have succumbed to the pressure of his job and societal standards, therefore reverting to violence, as Sam reiterated, does not seem unlikely.


Works Cited


Kimmel, Michael S. Manhood in America: A Cultural History. New York: Free, 1996. Print.



By: Sam, Bella & Lauren


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