In conclusion, the intersection of class, gender, and living conditions of 1884 Hartford shaped the dynamics of Ada Brown’s murder and subsequent case. Such dynamics illuminate the difficulties inherent in being a nineteenth century woman in poverty.
Class provides the main framework for understanding Ada Brown’s murder and the trial of her killer. Class explains Ada Brown’s living conditions, the geography of her existence, as well as the related presence and behavior of police forces. Furthermore, the class status of Brown, Harrison, and Gregory informed their gender roles and expressions.
Hartford in the nineteenth century had a large slum and tenement district on its east side, and this was where Brown lived with her daughter. Dubbed a “fallen woman” by the Hartford Courant, she dwelled in a tenement with her hard-drinking friends and neighbors. She lived with Harrison, her lover, and on the night she died, Gregory and other women were present. Prostitution was common in her area, and given her fragmented work history, it is possible Brown participated in the oldest profession herself. When Harrison, a driver with a painful and potentially violent past, killed Brown over a $10 bill, only to then be attacked himself by Gregory, who may have been out of work and who also had a violent history, we arguably see one form of 19th century masculinity, particularly as it intersected with dire poverty, manifest.
Police responded to the attack on Brown with relative speed, which is both surprising and unsurprising for the area. On the one hand, police assigned to the east side of Hartford often gave the neighborhood wide berth, as mobs of angry people had assaulted beat cops on more than one occasion. On the other hand, the local cops were also deeply involved in prostitution and gambling rings in the city, not unlike in other cities, so Brown’s apartment just outside the east side—in an stretch with many known prostitutes—might explain their haste. They left Brown for dead, got medical help for Harrison, and so Brown’s life as a poor, female resident of Hartford came to an abrupt close. The coroner saw no need for an inquest, and police and media focus turned to the men. Brown was summarily dismissed because of her class and sexual status; for the men, however, the latter in particular was irrelevant to what followed.
The case, then goes from a murder of a lower class woman, to being a case about the men involved—the media circus that ensued was about two (potential) murderers, not the woman who was killed. If we accept that the media reflected what was important in its the time and place, then we can easily argue that lower-class women ranked far beneath men of the lower class in terms of media cachet and social prestige. The trial that unfolded showcased the basic mechanisms of the legal system, as Gregory and Harrison’s charges were split from each other, Gregory’s dropped, Harrison’s weakened from murder to manslaughter, eventually leading him to a seven-year prison sentence. What might for us appear a short sentence was quite ordinary by nineteenth-century standards, and the horrible conditions of Wethersfield State Prison took their toll on the men within: Harrison emerged worse than he went in, and was last counted on the census as an inmate of some unidentifiable institution in South Windsor before passing away sometime later. While Harrison surely deserved the sentence he received, what such a system of both justice and punishment meant for men and women of the nineteenth century could still use some exploring by us.
The case was not simply a fight over money by people of the lower class but a result of the broader contours of urban life in the 19th century. The interconnectedness of class, gender and living conditions shaped the lives of all residents of America’s major cities. Brown’s death was only so different, for example, from the literal dozens of murders of Chicago women in the late century as America’s cities took on new forms with tremendous national changes.
By Brenna Miller, Grace DiModugno, Jessica Saltzman, Lauren Wojsnarowicz, Isabella Russo, Samantha Mullen, Anxhela Cenkolli, Lauren Leary, Ashley Wesley, and Dr. Jennifer Cote.