Police, the press, and politics of Hartford


This week we are discussing the language used about women in the press and how they are represented. We will also be discussing policing in the city of Hartford, particularly on the east side around the area that Ada Brown was killed. We will also touch on the politics surrounding Ada Brown during her life and afterwards. Discussing what crime was like in the area at the time is important in order to understand the circumstances around her murder and why it might have been handled poorly. It is also important to discuss women in the press because this will lead us to an understanding of how women were viewed and portrayed at the time and if this might have affected how the case was handled.  


The murder of Ada Brown took place around the area of the East Side of Hartford. Areas such as Gold Street were known for the brothels, and the prostitutes that were walking around the streets. The restrictions on the East Side were much weaker and laws were not enforced as harshly. This area was known for being a bit more rough, “voices were louder, disputes more public and violent, and drinking less discreet. Police made frequent arrests for brawling and especially for drunkenness” (Baldwin 44), police were also frequently beat up by the people that they were telling to disperse, and this area was known for its brothels in the 1880s. This lack of the law may have been caused by the police involvement in the vice district where they allow and sometimes partook in the activities themselves, this may have added to the discussion at the time of police corruption (Baldwin 76). Police in this area also when dealing with prostitutes often did not arrest them and sent them right to shelters, and if they were arrested they would often be sent to shelters the next day when they were released, these cases never usually went to a trial (Baldwin). This would significantly relate to the case because if Ada Brown was involved as a prostitute this may have affected how police handled the case and the relaxed attitudes about a murder taking place here. It would also affect any records that Ada Brown might have had for an arrest on prostitution. This most likely would not be on any records which is unfortunate because it would have been very helpful in proving the reasons her case was handled the way it was. Finding the public opinion on Ada Brown is difficult, but looking at how the press wrote about her might help, as we write about next.


So as stated above, this week for the press I looked at the language used to talk about women and how they were represented in the Ada Brown murder case. For Ada Brown specifically, The Hartford Courant used words such as wayward woman, which at this time meant that she was a widowed woman trying to accomplish things that were not socially acceptable at the time such as trying to support her daughter by having a job and we think also having an affair with both Harrison and Gregory. As for the murder case pertaining to Ada Brown, as said before she was sort of in between the “old woman” and the “new Woman”. I believe that because of this she was scrutinized more than the other case I brought up in previous weeks about the murder of Mary Stannard. Even though Mary Stannard worked, she was a servant and during this time period, that was more of a woman’s work. Ada Brown, however, did work as a housekeeper according to ancestry.com but I think what caused her so much scrutiny was that she was possibly having an affair with both men which seemed looked down upon for a woman to do during this time period. In Discovering the News page 64, Richard Harding Davis, a journalist at the time said that in the “old days” he was taught by the publishers to write about what they saw in detail rather than drawing conclusions about people and events. I believe in the case of Ada Brown, The Hartford Courant drew a lot of conclusions about what happened that night because it wasn’t possible for them to be at the scene. Writers during this time tried to put in a lot of their own opinions about people and events rather than stated what went on during the murder case, which is exactly what The New York Times did. When The New York Times referred to Ada Brown, they mentioned her as if she had done nothing wrong and did not mention that she was a “wayward woman” (Hartford Courant). I believe that the main reason for the difference in the way the press speaks about Ada has to do with where the papers are located. The Hartford Courant was in the town Ada was murdered and they took the story and tried to make it more sensationalized and interesting. They also talk about the affairs she was having with both Harrison and Gregory and the fight she was having with Harrison over money. The Hartford Courant brings a sort of flair to the story which may be the reason we believed that Harrison killed Ada and his other four wives. They painted him as a bad guy rather than someone who may have had a really hard life. On the other hand, The New York Times flawlessly brought up the case without all the flair so it was easier to understand the details of the case. They did not subject Ada as anything but an unfortunate woman who was murdered.

As a side note, girls were given the same treatment as women as well. In Domesticating the Street, chapter 4: Saving the Newsies, when girls tried selling newspapers, many people had a problems with it. The Courant refused to sell the morning papers because the girls were using “vulgar and abusive language” if people declined the offer to buy a paper (Baldwin 99). When The Courant complained about the girls staying out too late and entering saloons, which were considered as an “exclusively male environment” that was not fit for little girls to be apart of (Baldwin 99). The Courant also touched on how if they didn’t help the girls then they would grow up as “bad women” (Baldwin 99-100). Eventually what happened was the Common Council, and the influence of a group of unnamed wealthy women, banned all girls under the age of 16 from selling newspapers at any hour. One official on the committee stated that this was in effect in consideration of protecting the children from harm. The interesting part though is that boy never got banned from any age and were allowed to continue their daily work. The bias that girls couldn’t sell the newspapers and boys could. Many women, including Mary Hall, a women’s right advocate, tried hard to give these girls the right to again sell newspapers and told the Council that they needed to give these girls the right to do this and they could make it the streets safer by taking away more of the brothels. The Times brought up many times in their papers about how these girls of 9 or 10 should be able to work on the streets because they sell more papers than the boys and they also help their widowed mothers by bringing in some income. This makes me wonder that if Lena was old enough if she ever sold papers to help her mother, Ada keep afloat or if Harrison or Gregory helped support her after her husband died. Ancestry.com never specifies whether or not she did so it is hard to make assumptions about this.


Though politics are not discussed too much in depth in Peter Baldwin’s book, Domesticating the Streets, there are some interesting things that he mentioned which I feel were worth noting. In Chapter Two, Baldwin talks about the multiple attempts to purify and reform the city of Hartford at the turn of the century (1890s-1900s). In doing so, he briefly mentions an interesting insight into the politics of Hartford. “Enlisting intermittent support from politicians of both parties at a time when Republicans and Democrats traded control of city hall nearly every two years, [reformers] achieved some notable victories” (Domesticating the Streets). This appears to show that there was regular vacillation between which of the two major political parties was in power, as well as hinting that this seesawing of political power had been going on for quite some time.

In Chapter Three, titled “The Fight Against the Vice District,” Baldwin talks about how many women fought to abolish the red light district of Hartford, which included shutting down brothels and getting rid of prostitutes. In this chapter Baldwin again mentions the “alternating party rule and internal party conflict” that was affecting Hartford from the late 1890s into the early 1900s. Baldwin points out that, “Antiprostitution was truly a nonpartisan issue in Hartford, supported by some Democrats and opposed by some Republicans, much like other reforms during this period of alternating party rule and internal party conflict” (Domesticating the Streets). Baldwin previously mentioned how, though there had been two Democrat Mayors back to back, they both had very different views on how to treat the suffragists’ desire to shut down the red light district. One mayor had been apathetic to the movement, while the other showed himself to be an ardent supporter of abolishing the vice district. This disparity within the Democratic party was probably also happening within the Republican party. Because of the fluctuation between not only the parties themselves, but also the individual political viewpoints within the parties, it is probable to assume that the city of Hartford was having difficulty in maintaining any sort of political stability.

This ties back into the case of Ada Brown because this political instability had been occurring at least as far back as the 1870s. We know this to be at least partly true from the previous information on three different mayors of Hartford from one of our prior blog posts. Two of the mayors during Ada Brown’s adult life were members of the Democratic party and one was a member of the Republican party. The political fluctuation that ensued from just these three mayors was seen previously from the difficulties the police force and Chief Packard experienced under these multiple political agendas. Packard was dismissed from the police force under one mayor, only to be reinstated a few years later by another. If there had been any attempts in the 1870s or 1880s to shut down brothels and limit or abolish prostitution, there is a large possibility that, because of the consistently changing political scene, none of those attempts would have gotten very far (not at least until 1914, well after Ada Brown’s death). Therefore, assuming the possibility that Ada might have been a prostitute, (or in prostitute-like circumstances), she would not have been much affected by early attempts to abolish the red light district and any form of activity associated with it.

Works Cited

Jones, C. H. (2015). The New Woman, 1880-1915. Retrieved November 18, 2016, from http://www.edwardianpromenade.com/fashion/the-new-woman/

Schudson, M. (1978). Discovering the news: A social history of American newspapers. New York: Basic Books.

Baldwin, Peter C. Domesticating the Street: The Reform of Public Space in Hartford, 1850-1930. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1999. Print.


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