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The Mysterious Death of Mary Rogers: Sex and Culture in Nineteenth-Century New York

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The Mysterious Death of Mary Rogers

Sex and Culture in Nineteenth-Century New York

By Amy Gilman Srebnick, Amy Gilman Srenbnick

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Format: Paperback, 240 pages
Published In: United States, 01 July 1997
In the summer of 1841, Mary Rogers disappeared without a trace from her New York City boarding house. Three days later, her body, badly bruised and waterlogged, was found floating in the shallow waters of the Hudson River just a few feet from the Jersey shore. Her story, parlayed into a long
celebrated unsolved mystery, became grist for penny presses, social reformers, and politicians alike, and an impetus for popular literature, including Edgar Allan Poe's pioneering detective story "The Mystery of Marie Roget."
In The Mysterious Death of Mary Rogers, historian Amy Gilman Srebnick brilliantly recaptures the story of Mary Rogers, showing how Rogers represented an emerging class of women who took advantage of the greater economic and sexual opportunities available to them in urban America, and how her death
became a touchstone for the voicing of mid-nineteenth century concerns over sexual license, the changing roles of women, law and order, and abortion. Rogers's death, first thought due to a murderous gang of rapists and later tacitly understood to be the result of an ill-performed abortion, quickly
became a source of popular entertainment, a topic of political debate, and an inspiration to public policy. The incident and the city's response to it provides a fascinating window into the urban culture and consciousness of the mid-1800s. Indeed, in Rogers's name, and as a direct result of her
death, two important pieces of legislation were passed in 1845: the New York City Police Reform Act which effectively modernized the city's system of policing, and the New York State law criminalizing abortion.
The Mysterious Death of Mary Rogerstells a story of a death, but more importantly it also tells the story of a life--that of Mary Rogers--and of the complex urban social world of which she was a part. Like the city in which she lived, Mary Rogers was a source of wonder, mystery, and fear,
provoking desire, and inspiring narrative.

About the Author

Amy Gilman Srebnick is Professor of History at Montclair State University. She was co-editor of The Mythmaking Frame of Mind: Social Imagination and American Culture.


The death of Mary Rogers in 1841, in New York City at the age of 21, has been represented and examined in a variety of accounts, both fictional (Edgar Allan Poe's Mystery of Mary Roget and Charles Burdett's Lilla Hart) and nonfictional (Raymond Paul's Who Murdered Mary Rogers, 1971). Possibly a murder or the result of a botched abortion, her death epitomized the case of the young woman at odds with a violent and sexual city. Srebnick (history, Montclair State Univ.) reveals the culture and life of New York City and its inhabitants through the individuals involved in the investigation. The author then ties these figures to the genres of the dime novel and detective fiction. Her well-written volume is accessible to scholars and the public at large. Highly recommended for all readers.‘Jenny Presnell, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, Ohio

Excellent classroom text; students are engrossed by the story which raises key issues about urbanized class formation and gender roles. * Kathleen Kennedy, Western Washington University * Srebnick covers the much-traversed ground regarding the details surrounging Rogers's life and death. Nevertheless, the author postulates a provocative new theory regarding the subject's personal history... * The Historian * The Mysterious Death of Mary Rogers is immensely readable, fluently written, well-paced, and intrinsically of great value. It is vivid and highly evocative of the urban culture * persons, events, buildings and streets, print culture, complex moral codes, etc. * A wonderfully astute and complex investigation of gender, class, and cultural representation in the urban world of antebellum America. * Eric Sundquist, Department of English, UCLA * Highly recommended for all readers. * Library Journal * In a mesmerizing, superb study, intriguingly illustrated with period engravings and woodcuts,...Srebnick uses the Rogers saga to throw a floodlight on sexuality in antebellum America, women's history, urban mass culture, the rise of the popular press, and the birth of detective fiction. * Publishers Weekly (starred review) * With its combination of romance, sex, and violence, Rogers's story captured the allure and danger of urban life and, Srebnick argues, introduced previously unspeakable acts into public discourse. * Time Out New York * Everyone loves a good mystery. And the mysteries abound in Amy Gilman Srebnick's absorbing new work....With this book, the mysterious death of Mary Rogers should take its place beside other crimes that have shocked Americans into action, or at least into deep reflection about our society * Kitty Genovese and Nicole Brown Simpson are only the tip of the iceberg. *

In 1841, beautiful, Connecticut-born, 21-year-old Mary Cecilia Rogers disappeared from her mother's New York City boardinghouse; her badly bruised body was found three days later in the Hudson River. Speculation flourished that she was brutally raped by a gang, or killed by a lone assassin. Later testimony indicated that she had died in a botched abortion; yet, despite the alleged deathbed confession of an innkeeper who oversaw the abortion, her death remained unsolved. Edgar Allen Poe fictionalized the tragedy in his tale ``The Mystery of Marie Roget.'' Journalists and politicians who frequented the Manhattan cigar store where Rogers tended counter made her death a cause célèbre. Amid hysteria over crime, New York City passed the Police Reform Act of 1845, allowing closer social and political surveillance; the same year, a state law criminalized abortion. In a mesmerizing, superb study, intriguingly illustrated with period engravings and woodcuts, Montclair State University history professor Srebnick uses the Rogers saga to throw a floodlight on sexuality in antebellum America, women's history, urban mass culture, the rise of the popular press and the birth of detective fiction. (Nov.)

EAN: 9780195113921
ISBN: 0195113926
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Dimensions: 20.22 x 13.59 x 1.68 centimetres (0.20 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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