The Life of Ellen Jewett

The Jewett murder case, perhaps more than any pre-Civil War scandal in the U.S., exposed the injustice of the sexual double-standard in which men, on one hand, were expected to try to conquer the “virtue” of many women, and by that earn a reputation for manliness and continued acceptance in respectable society, and in which women, on the other, who engaged in relations with these men, women who were often lied to about love and “seduced” with promises of marriage, would be forever disgraced and have few options in life but to enter prostitution.

The sexual dynamic of Male as sexual predator, whose brutality was a God-given part of his masculinity, and Female as victim, whose innate weakness and inferiority (Eve) left her vulnerable to his perfidy, was the accepted norm. With the Jewett case, this double-standard was put on trial in the court of public opinion and women organized to try to save their “fallen sisters.” Both Harriet Jacobs and Louisa May Alcott would have known about this notorious case.

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Read the account of the case as reported here (and be sure to turn to the next page for the full article):

Southern telegraph. (Rodney, Miss.), 09 Aug. 1836. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

And read this:

The Life of Ellen Jewett; Illustrative of Her Adventures: With Very Important Incidents, from Her Seduction to the Period of Her Murder: Together with Various Extracts from Her Journal, Correspondence, and Poetical Effusions
s.n. (New-York)
Nineteenth Century Crime: Literature, Reports, and True Crime from the American Antiquarian Society


In 400 words, describe how the author of “The Life of Ellen Jewett” tries to manipulate the reader into sympathizing with Ellen. Who are the good women and bad women, the good men and bad men in the story? What about Ellen is used to cast her as a not really bad but a victim?

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