Brave Victorian Women: August 1896 News In NY

ΩΩWhile looking for a totally different story about the famous heatwave of early August, 1896, I ended up reading a lot of stories in the NYT archives from that month.  What struck me was how many amazing stories about women doing things especially capturing thieves, saving drowning children while dressed in heavy clothes and other exploits.  Below is a sampling of just a handful of these stories which illustrates how active, strong and daring women were during the heyday of the Victorian era and how our perception of the past doesn’t always match the actual reality.


ΩΩI am, of course, very aware of active Victorian women for my grandmothers and great grandmothers were accomplished women who were very active outside of the home and brave, too, living on the ‘frontier’.  The common image the moralists and religionists wanted to impose on women clashed with reality and the women’s rights movement was a secular push to overcome religious restrictions on our sex.


ΩΩThe fight for basic civil rights was pursued by these brave, daring women in the 19th century and I wish to thank them for their heroic efforts.  So, here is a collection of stories from just the month of August, 1896, a brief glimpse into the Victorian world, just in the New York city area:

Note that the women doing this are a Christian revivalist group!  Of course, women were locked out of many careers yet were forced to toil harsh hours in dangerous factories and on hazardous farms.  The higher the value of a career, the more likely a woman was locked out.  But the lowest levels of society, women worked very hard in dangerous conditions and no one blinked an eye.

ΩΩThis made many women quite tough.  One of the side effects of this is a desire to be coddled like rich women who don’t have to do hard labor.  The army of servants surrounding these rich, protected Victorian females was quite large and they did heavy labor.  That is, the pre-machine domestic work was physically demanding.


ΩΩEven so, the rich ladies exposed themselves to dangers because they wanted to feel the wind in their hair and the joy of freedom even while dressed in some of the most confining garb, ever.

ΩΩThis year was a banner year for bikes.  These revolutionary new machines were a great fad.  There was one story from this month about a young lad who was struck and killed by lightning while riding his bike.  Many stories about biker/horse/pedestrian conflicts.  For example, horse users would try to knock over bikers or bikers would race around carriages, spooking the horses.  The police were ‘outgunned’ by this due to their slower speed compared to how swiftly a bikers could pull away.


ΩΩSo, a bike spooked this girl’s horse but a biker saved her due to being able to peddle faster.  This story took place in the middle of the Great Heat Wave of 1869.  Obviously, people were out ‘recreating’ during this.  By the way, as someone who has ridden side saddle, yes, if the girth is not very tight, it can easily slip!  This is due to the lopsided weight as one perches precariously on the heaving back of the horse.  Now, all modern side saddles have break-away stirrups.

ΩΩHAHAHA.  Yes, a stellar moment in Women’s Liberation!  Bikes freed women to explore more and to take more risks.  I used to enjoy breaking this sort of taboo.  We had them even in my misspent youth!  I like the ‘natty bicycle costume’.  Defying fashions imposed from above, women dared to go in public wearing more practical clothing.  We see this today: to emphasize ‘femininity’, modern women are wearing totally impractical and utterly dangerous, crippling shoes.  The shoes of the Victorian women were much, much safer and better for the feet!


ΩΩThat is, on the fashion front, we make little progress.  We wear more relaxed clothes on top while wearing restrictive and dangerous footwear instead of the reverse.  For some reason, women like doing this to themselves.  It always puzzles me.

ΩΩThis is a daring lady who was killed while doing a show.  Her husband was obviously very distraught.  I know from my own ancestors, women were pushing the limits on what they could do and this was very popular in the news.  Now, on to the crime reports.  Very revealing news and clearly shows that women were capable of personal bravery of sometimes astonishing levels.  As a woman who ran a street patrol, who has made a number of citizen’s arrests in Modern America, I salute these brave heroic women and realize how much danger they really were in as they fought  criminals off or captured them:

ΩΩHAHAHA…the poor guy ran into the wife of a cop’s house!  She was one cool lady!  She ran into the house where the crook was hiding, got a gun, told her husband to get out of the bath, ran down into the basement and nailed the guy!  One hundred years later, Newark has been totally ravaged by criminals.  I used to work with a Black Muslim street patrol in the Central Ward.  We had our hands full, every night!


ΩΩI salute this early example of what I used to do!  Shows us how stalwart Victorian women really were.  But this isn’t the only example, there are many more.

ΩΩ1896 was the second step downwards in the Long Depression.  This began in 1878 and had several stages where there was some recovery and then another jump downwards.  Many people were unemployed and at the same time, a flood of 12 million immigrants were let into the country to bring down wages even further.  The plan was to move this mass westwards but most stayed in the Northeast, driving down wages.


ΩΩThere was a lot of social tension, of course.  The German immigrants brought in socialist dogma and were busy organizing along the same Marxist lines as at home, for example.  The newspapers had a number of stories about this, too.  By the way, it is dangerous to dispute things with a bulldog.  Bulldogs were very popular during this time period.  For protection, that is.


ΩΩThe news is full of rescue stories.  It was frankly quite dangerous back then.  We take many modern controls and systems for granted.  Back then, there was very little control over traffic moving, covering wells, few protective walls, etc.  The concept of a fire department was just beginning to take off and the Great San Francisco Quake which burned most of the city down, hadn’t even happened yet.  The Great Chicago Fire was only 2 generations earlier.


ΩΩHere is an amazing rescue story that really moved me, I have saved children from watery death in the past and did this always fairly minimally dressed.  To imagine this story, picture a lady wearing full skirts, petticoats and corset jumping into the East River!

ΩΩWow. On every level: not only was this woman immensely brave, she was quick on her feet.  She didn’t go over to the men to beg for help, she hiked up her skirts and took off like a rocket and jumped into danger!  Not only that, she ordered the men who rushed to catch up with her, to not jump in, she had things under control!  And to top it all off, she took the child to her poor home and revived him and cared for him!  Bravo, Miss Fredericks!  A girl to marry!


ΩΩThis was during the torrid heatwave of 1896.  A number of people drowned during it but not this lad, thanks to a fast-thinking heroine.  Now for an even more heroic story, one that is just amazing:

ΩΩMrs. Harris risked her neck to save someone else’s baby.  Not only that, she thought very fast, what to do.  Time was important, there was no time to waste just like in the previous story here.


ΩΩThe baby was already four feet under and going down 30 feet in the well was immensely brave.  She might have not made it back out, herself.  She trusted the mother of the baby to pull her out again, no small level of trust!  She then revived the baby which took some effort and then fainted.  The adrenaline flowing in her system must have been enormous!  Today, we dial 911 instead of taking dangerous actions like this.


ΩΩI grew up where there were no police so calling for them meant waiting half an hour or more so I was accustomed to being in charge when bad things happened.  Back then, there was very spotty police coverage, the concept of a policeman was still quite new, in fact.  Now, on to important news, that is, the push for political rights.  My ancestors were very big on this matter and fought for the right to vote out West which led the nation when it come to women’s civil rights.

ΩΩBut in the East, women were pushing for the right to vote, too.  And this was very dangerous.  1896 is the same year Jim Crow began in America thanks to the Supreme Court.  As blacks lost civil rights, it became harder for women to gain these rights.  Only after total destruction of black rights did women win the vote so long as it was only for white women.


ΩΩA disgraceful and long episode in our history, lasted over 50 years and wasn’t fixed until I was a teenager!  Anyway, there is this story about women trying to participate in the political process concerning schools.  Evidently and according to accounts I heard from my grandfather who was very much alive during all of this, the men often voted down school funding and this angered their own wives!

ΩΩI’m sure moralists groused, ‘Next thing you know, these women will be bicycling to bars and drinking with the men!’  And yes, we did!  HAHAHA.  I like the part of the above story where there were 13 ballots but you could cast only 5.  Sounds utterly strange.  And  nothing gets more personal and irritating and even violent than school elections.  Here in NY this year, all the districts are seeing less money and higher taxes and boy, the voting and the meetings have been quite loud, even violent.


ΩΩI also like the part where the women knew what they wanted to vote on before approaching the ballot box.  This required a lot of organizing.  Note, too, they brought in 200 women.  These were nearly all upperclass women.  The rift between the upper class desire for full political power versus the economic demands of working lower class women exists to this day.


ΩΩWe see a flood of women in politics such as Palin who are reactionaries who want to have political power while removing civil rights from other women such as preventing access to safe abortions, for example.  There are many very rich women running for office in both political parties who don’t give two twitches for the lower working class men or women.  They want to expand their privileges and protect their wealth via cutting their own tax burdens while scooping up vast profits at the expense of working men and working women.


ΩΩThe battle for civil rights and political power runs along class, race and sexual lines in every country on earth.  How to wrestle with these are a big issue everywhere on earth.  But we still have to take time to recognize our ancestors and the great efforts they made in the past.  We can take heart from this, too.  The struggle for things that matter to us is not just today but every day.


ΩΩThis is why I don’t counsel despair and running off into goofy side issues that change nothing.  We must jump into the well and trust someone to pull us up again with the coal rope!  We must save that drowning child.

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Filed under Politics

16 responses to “Brave Victorian Women: August 1896 News In NY

  1. emsnews

    These women, for the most part, in today’s story are the unsung heroes. The ones who fade from memory so I thought it appropriate to revive them and honor them.

  2. wb

    Yes, Elaine, and thanks for that noble sentiment…

    I was taught history as lists of famous names and important events. Kings, battles.
    Which ignores 99% of what went on, the ordinary lives of ordinary people, unknown and anonymous doesn’t mean they were stupid, unheroic. Their forgotten lives full of drama and tragedies and triumphs over adversities..

    I’m watching this, part of our shared histories.

  3. PLovering

    In our war against the Kingship of Christ, we Atheistic Bankers will favor those least able to govern.

    Passion and sensuality are wanted at the helm of the Kingship, since they best entertain and confuse the masses, and disconnect them from their government.

    Tea Party Patriots and Founder Fathers must be marginalized as all costs.

  4. Gary

    Great Post..

    The dont make them like they used to.

    What a difference from our Palin type “gated community” crusaders that we have now in both parties.

  5. meadows

    I always considered women to be the stronger gender. I’m a male. Look, they can reproduce life in their bodies, on average they live longer than men if they have health care… my wife is way better than me in emergencies. They tend to be more collegial than men.

    3 cheers for the women!

  6. Chorddog

    “two twists”
    Is that Victorian for “a rat’s ass”?

    America has been a white male’s land for most of its existence.
    It has been a long, sad story of racism, sexism, and even religious intolerance (in colonial Maryland, Catholics were forbidden from owning property).

    Many people don’t realize that all branches of the U.S. armed forces were totally segregated until 1948!

    Now, Americans are being tutored by the media that the new bogeyman is a threat from outside – the Muslim menace!

    Our entire economy has become grounded on the prospect of permanent war!

    It’s “1984”!!!

  7. There was a woman, Lillian Alling who may have walked from NYC to russia via the telegraph trail in BC in 1927 , she was last seen perhaps at the Bering sea.

  8. wb

    Rich women, poor women, strong women, pampered women, adventurous women, timid women..

    Anyone remember the French aristocracy playing at being peasants prior to meeting Madam Guillotine ?

    “…the Queen and her attendants would dress as shepherdesses and milkmaids. Particularly docile, hand-picked cows would be cleaned. These cows would be milked by the ladies, with porcelain milk churns painted to imitate wood specially made by the royal porcelain manufactory at Sèvres. These churns and pails featured the Queen’s monogram.”

    “For Marie Antoinette, the hameau was an escape from the regulated life style of the Court at Versailles, into a more simple way of life, while, to the eyes of French people, a queen who amused herself at being a peasant did not improve her image.”

    Never knew I was in agreement with Physiocrats, hahaha, nice to learn something new every day, isn’t the internet wonderful ?

    “The physiocrats predicted that mankind would outgrow its resources: given the finite amount of land, it would not be able to support an endlessly increasing population.”

  9. nah

    thieves, saving drowning children while dressed in heavy clothes and other exploits
    girls are smart… im all about girls…. girls girls girls!
    victorian girls were near as hot as modern girls…. modern girls are way richer
    not to say the government doesnt allow women to wear the pants… women understand their nascent social leverage pretty damn well
    life or death style

  10. PLovering

    Secret Depopulation Programs:

    “In independent studies GMO “frankenfood” has been linked to organ failure, and a recent Russian study has concluded near-total sterility in GMO-soy-fed hamsters by the third generation.”

  11. @Plovering
    “In our war against the Kingship of Christ,” they have gone way beyond the Protocols. Although the Protocols contained almost every principle used to enslave the masses. They have just refined the methods through technology. The Beast will rule for 42 months, and then the Lamb will reign forever. Some trade off, huh?

  12. wb


    I’m right with you on that one ! GMOs, Monsanto and the rest, are totally evil, IMO.

  13. PLovering

    @Shockuhzulu, “and then the Lamb will reign forever. Some trade off, huh?”

    I can just picture Rahm Emanual riding in on his white horse to rescue liberals and progressives mired in the shit of economic collapse.

  14. @Plovering
    “Rahm Emanual riding in on his white horse to rescue liberals”

    There will be a lot of disappointed liberals and progressives. The invitation list to the ARK is rather short I’m afraid. Baron De Red Shield doesn’t want to share his gold with just anyone.

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