Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Social Evil

The Nashville Republican Banner of August 4, 1867, carried a tragic story under the title :"The Social Evil." It dealt with the deaths of two prostitutes o­n the 3d. August was even then known for slow news days and so this extended story appeared. It is unlikely that we would know about it if it had occurred in any other month. It was a sad story, however - both women died from an overdose of morphine, in two otherwise unrelated deaths. Death due to drug overdose are nothing new. :Yes, how we long for the good old days when there were no prostitutes and no drug addicts or overdoses, when America's moral fiber was strong and the only thing we had to kill were those pesky Indians. I digress. The story:

A double tragedy, bearing the nature of a coincidence, occurred at No. 116 and 120 South Cherry street, which resulted yesterday morning in the death of Jane Caroline Gills, alias "Matt Wells," and "Thursday Maury," alias "Lou Rice," alias "Lou Wilks. The two women were both handsome and dashing dames du pave [street walkers], who occupied, with other kindred and congenial spirits, the dwellings in question. The first is a one story brick, the other a story and a half frame, mildewed and somewhat out of repairs. They are just beyond Anderson's foundry, on the east side of the street. That quarter of the town is made up of small and dingy buildings, but is not considered disreputable. In other words, the gay ladies of the aristocratic jungles regard it as out of fashion and "second rate," and have long since abandoned it for more recherché regions to the north of the Square and Capitol Hill. Although the two unfortunate women came to their death by morphine, and were intimated, living next door to each other, it does not appear that there was any concerted design in the mode or manner of their death. We shall have to take the cases, therefore, separately, and, for the purpose of simplifying our story, begin with No. 116. There are some curious creatures that give color and character to each.


The habituĂ©s of the splendid house of Madame Elize, on Tenth street, in the City of St. Louis, will doubtless remember a sweet-faced, rosey [sic] cheeked, plump little girl, who came there three years ago from the neighboring country, and soon acquired, by her gaiety and vivacious manners, the sobriquet of the :Star of the West.: She was the daughter of a poor Welsh wine-presser, of the name of Gills, and had married a steamboat man before she was fifteen years old. Her husband took her to New Orleans and died, leaving her with one child. A year after she married again, and came up to Paducah, where she was left by her second lord and master who happened to be a "sport" and on the "rove." On his return he found her engaged in a desperate intrigue with an actor, with whom, like a philosopher, he wisely resolved to leave her. The actor soon deserted her, and thus she, after various adventures, found herself at seventeen, having given birth to and lost three children, an inmate of a brilliant house of ill-fame, its "chief care," and favorite. She played the piano, sang songs, gambled, caused two duels, was on and off with a dozen "lovers,": faded, grew desperate and finally disappeared. She came from St. Louis to Nashville just seven months ago.[so, she came - so to say- to Nashville in February 1867-ed.] Since her arrival she has devoted herself to a single "friend," but has shown signs of a reckless disposition. Her principal associate was a her neighbor, Lou Wilks and the two indulged only too freely in the "flowing bowl: for the purpose as they say of "drowning their cares: the o­ne had deserted a worthy farther [sic] and virtuous vineyard, and the other had here cause of grief and regret likewise, which we will relate.


On Temperance hill, in East Knoxville, there lived, perhaps there still lives, a worthy laboring man, Joseph Maury by name. He married about ten years ago - ran away with and married - a young girl from o­ne of the upper counties, of rich and respectable parents. They came to Knoxville where, they lived happily enough until the fall of that city in 1862 [sic], when a faithful wife and mother was converted by flattery and excitement into an abandoned woman. She was led astray by a Federal Colonel, and eloped with a soldier en route for the "front," who brought her to Nashville. Her husband was not able to follow her, but she contrived afterward to procure her only child, a son, who is now an orphan of about nine years old. Her career ever since has been ­ne of dissipation. Yet she is only twenty six- prematurely old, wrinkled and decayed.


Jane Gill, the "Star of the West," and Mary Wilks, the truant wife of poor [Joseph] Maury met for the last time Friday evening August 2d about dusk, on the suspension bridge. one had been in Edgefield on a business errand, and the other had repaired to the bridge to fill an appointment with her lover. The faithless man did not appear and the pair turned homeward down Market street. On the way home May Wild [apparently a prostitute friend] stopped at an apothecary's and bought some morphine. The pair parted soon thereafter.


Jane Gill entered her room flushed and excited. Her lover had not kept his appointment. The object, it seems, she had first in mind was the payment of her rent, which was due, and for this reason she had written him to meet her at the bridge, and he had promise her that he would do so. His failure evinced a determination not to "come down with the stamps." [sic] She was greatly depressed and talked much about her condition, saying that she would rather die than be turned out by the Sheriff [for not paying her rent]. A little before twelve o'clock (Friday night) she went to Page's drug store and bought a small bottle of morphine, representing that a woman had just been taken ill of cholera morbus. Previously to this she had drank at least a pint of whisky. When she returned to her room, Sarah Tucker, a negro servant, suspecting her design implored her to go to bed. The unfortunate woman, excited to frenzy, drew her knife and threatened to kill her if she approached. Then, by a sudden spasm of lunacy, she took the morphine and fell down o­n the bed. Dr. Plunkett was called, but when she arrived she was in a dying state. She breathed her last yesterday, at half past eight o'clock in the forenoon. When our reporter reached the house she had been dressed and laid out. The women in the vicinity had collected and paid all the respect they could to the body. They robed her in a plain black silk, with a white body, lace collar and cuffs. She looked as she lay there like an innocent young girl. She bore few or no traces of dissipation. Death seemed to have purified the remains of a guilty life.


About four weeks ago Lou Maury, alias Lou Rice, after a long career of dissipation was married to a man, James Wilks by name, and who was recently committed to jail for stealing mules. This livestock operator and declared enemy to horse insurance companies amused himself by writing letters to his "dear wife," and made numberless promises of amendment when released.

On Friday night, a man who has been moved by either shame or remorse (we do not pretend to say which) to request that we suppress his name, went to Lou. Wilks' house and conducted himself to such a manner as to cause her intense pain and distress. She had, it appears, been "sweet" on him, and had lived with him as his mistress some three years. She had supported him with her sinful gains, and had even sold her clothing to pamper his depraved appetites. He made the usual return - deserted her for another woman. On the night already mentioned he reproached her for having married Walks, and sore that, though she might cry her eyes out, he would never see her again. Having made her as miserable as possible, he left the house. In a few moments, about 12 o'clock, she had procured and swallowed the portion which terminated her wretched existence. The aid of the physician, Dr. Plunket, was called in too late. She died at half past ten yesterday morning [i.e., August 3] Her corpse was neatly laid out by her companions, put in a poplar coffin, and sent to her grave yard in a furniture car.

Nashville Republican Banner, August 4. 1867

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