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Maine History Online
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The Murder of Mary Bean

This Exhibit Contains 14 Items
1
Factory Island, Saco, ca. 1840

Factory Island, Saco, ca. 1840

Item 28931 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum

In 19th-century New England, the growth of textile factories propelled the industrial revolution. Beginning in the 1830s, mill managers recruited young women to leave their homes and work in the factories.

Young women -- native born, single, and in their late teens to early twenties -- comprised the majority of the labor force in the textile mills from the 1830s to the 1850s.

Worried parents were assured their daughters would be safe far from home, housed in company-owned boarding houses under the watchful eye of an older woman, often a widow, who ran the boardinghouse.

Strict rules and curfews would keep these daughters of New England safe from harm.


2
Berengera Caswell [?], ca. 1849

Berengera Caswell [?], ca. 1849

Item 29132 info
Maine Historical Society

With two of her sisters, Berengera Caswell (1828-1849), like thousands of young New England women, traveled to the textile factories seeking an independence and cash-paying work previous generations of women rarely experienced.

Girls in past generations spent their days spinning thread, weaving cloth, and making candles and other household products.

By the early 19th century in more settled areas, these goods were affordable and readily available for purchase. With less household tasks to do, factory work permitted young women to be an economic asset rather than an economic drain.


3
Spinning Room of Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, 1910

Spinning Room of Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, 1910

Item 23522 info
McArthur Public Library

Berengera worked in the carding room of the Amoskeag mill in Manchester, New Hampshire, putting in 12-hour days and earning on average $3.25 per week.

Despite the long days, textile operatives enjoyed many evening activities including shopping, exhibitions, lectures, and strolling along the factory canals.

In the early summer of 1849, Caswell met a young machine operative named William Long. Their relationship became intimate over the summer – a behavior of which middle class moralists highly disapproved.


4
Shuttle, Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, ca. 1910

Shuttle, Pepperell Mills, Biddeford, ca. 1910

Item 28922 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum

Thais Elizabeth Caswell, Berengera's sister, worked as a weaver at the Amoskeag mill in Manchester.

Weaving was a highly paid position in textile work and in the course of two years, Thais earned over $400.

Berengera’s beau, William Long, was less diligent in his work habits and was fired in September of 1849.

Long returned to his hometown of Biddeford, while Berengera left Manchester and moved to Salem, Massachusetts.

Thais remained in New Hampshire. When Berengera left, it was the last time the two sisters would see each other.


5
Mills, Saco, ca. 1875

Mills, Saco, ca. 1875

Item 28764 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum

By November 1849, Berengera Caswell realized she was pregnant and she traveled to Biddeford to find William Long.

If they married, the social stigma of unwed motherhood would be removed.

If they did not, Berengera would be considered a fallen woman, forever shamed with an illegitimate child.

William sought the advice of his Biddeford mill manager who suggested a third possibility, a legal, but not openly discussed option: an abortion.


6
Storer Street, Saco, ca. 1880

Storer Street, Saco, ca. 1880

Item 25550 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum

Long and Caswell turned to Dr. James Smith, a Saco physician who practiced from his Storer Street home.

Smith, who gave Caswell the alias Mary Bean, treated her with herbal preparations that had been used by healers for centuries, but these failed to work.

In December 1849, Smith attempted a dangerous surgical procedure. This resolved Caswell’s dilemma, but the operation left her horribly infected in an era without antibiotics.

A week later, she died.


7
Medicine kit, Portland, ca. 1860

Medicine kit, Portland, ca. 1860

Item 28979 info
Maine Historical Society

At mid-century, numerous medical philosophies guided a variety of physicians, midwives, and healers.

Allopathic physicians, today’s M.D.s, were trained in medical schools such as that at Harvard or Dartmouth.

These doctors, called “regular” physicians, used several unpleasant techniques including bleeding, leeches, and blistering.

Medicine included harsh purgatives and stimulants that often left patients debilitated.

The allopaths, however, had professional power in the American Medical Association, founded in 1847 to support the regular physicians’ medical ideas and practices.


8
Homeopathic Medicine Box, Fryeburg, ca. 1850

Homeopathic Medicine Box, Fryeburg, ca. 1850

Item 28980 info
Maine Historical Society

Botanic physicians learned their craft from apprenticeships, books, or short courses.

These doctors favored herbal remedies and treatments much less harsh to the patient’s body.

Dr. James Smith was one of 10 physicians identified in the 1849 Saco Directory: two, including Smith, were botanic, one Thompsonian, and seven identified as allopathic. There were also several apothecaries and a dentist.

The number and diversity of medical providers reflects the intense competition in the health business at mid century.


9
York County Courthouse, 1894

York County Courthouse, 1894

Item 22685 info
Alfred Historical Society

Although abortion was a legal procedure in 1849, Caswell’s subsequent death was considered a crime.

With public suspicion already aroused by Smith’s practice, the doctor attempted to conceal Caswell’s death by tying her to a board and placing her in a brook that fed into the Saco River.

His plan was foiled when the board became wedged as the brook passed underneath Storer Street.

In April 1850, Caswell’s body was discovered and Smith was charged with murder.

Hundreds of residents from across southern Maine followed the sensational case and waited outside the courthouse for the latest information.


10
Nathan Clifford, Newfield, ca. 1880

Nathan Clifford, Newfield, ca. 1880

Item 12294 info
Maine Historical Society

Newfield native Nathan Clifford, who would be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1858, was Smith’s appointed attorney.

Testimony from allopathic physicians confirmed Caswell’s cause of death and statements from Storer Street neighbors placed Caswell at Smith’s residence.

Caswell’s younger sister Thais Elizabeth identified Berengera’s possessions, still at Smith’s home.

Smith was convicted of second-degree murder and sent to the Maine State Prison.

Clifford filed an appeal. Abortion law was changing in the 1850s and based on a conflict between evolving statutory law and common law, Smith’s conviction was overturned.

The AMA used cases such as this to revise abortion law in the 1850s, making the practice illegal until the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973.


11
Cover, 'Mary Bean or the Mysterious Murder,' 1851

Cover, 'Mary Bean or the Mysterious Murder,' 1851

Item 29272 info
New Hampshire Historical Society

Caswell’s death confirmed the worst fears of the middle class: that young women, who should have their eyes on marriage and motherhood, would suffer ill health, moral injury, and even death if they remained in the work force.

Sensational fiction profited on these fears by offering moralistic tales of naïve young women ruined at the hand of cruel seducers.

Berengera Caswell’s life and death became fodder for two such works, although the anonymous author of this tale took great liberties to make her story fit cultural expectations of innocent girls wronged by cads preying on unsupervised young women.

The moral of the story: to be safe, girls should remain at home.


12
Cover, 'Confession of George Hamilton,' 1852

Cover, 'Confession of George Hamilton,' 1852

Item 29273 info
Maine Historical Society

While young women were inevitably the victims in these salacious tales, young men were cautioned as well.

The new cities were seen as dangerous places where young men could be duped by “confidence men” who appeared to be mentors but were in reality focused only on dragging youth down a path of drunkenness, gambling and crime.

Stating that these sensational tales were published only to guide and protect impressionable youth, publishers churned out thousands of these tales, making good money on the latest “shocking crime” or “horrible tragedy.”


13
The Saco Factory Girl and Emily Adderson Romances of Real Life, 1852

The Saco Factory Girl and Emily Adderson Romances of Real Life, 1852

Item 29089 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum

Saco and Biddeford were the setting for several works of fiction featuring the sad fate of wronged factory girls.

This tale features the impetuous Caroline who ignores her mother, lies to her parents, and runs away with her beau.

She is seduced, abandoned before marriage, robbed of all her goods, and ends her days in a brothel.

Caroline's seducer uses the stolen money to travel to California in the gold rush but this confidence man is himself conned and he dies alone in Panama, birds of prey waiting for his corpse.

Story after story reiterated that factory work for young women was temporary at best and that safety --- for young women and for middle class culture – was found in the domestic setting of home.


14
Pepperell Workers, Biddeford, ca. 1900

Pepperell Workers, Biddeford, ca. 1900

Item 23038 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum

At mid century, ongoing labor strife and rising tension between mill owners and their increasingly savvy female work force led to a shift in the composition of mill workers.

By 1860, the majority of factory girls were foreign born and the native Protestant middle class society was less concerned with their fates. Mill owners paid this work force less and demanded more work of them as the textile industry became less profitable.

Following the upheaval of the Civil War, native born, middle class young women found new opportunities that took them from their homes, delayed marriage, and worried their parents.

Once again sensational fiction moralized on the dire consequences of this latest quest: attending college.


This Exhibit Contains 14 Items
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