Miss Mercy’s Immoral Hat: 1912

Hat, 1910, with lace, sequins, and aigrettes. http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/220047.html?mulR=802624131|210

Hat, 1910, with lace, sequins, and aigrettes.

There is one “big news story” to which The Day Book has paid no attention.

It is that of the trials and tribulations of Esther Mercy, and The Day Book has had a good reason for not paying attention to it.

Consider what has happened.

Esther Mercy was a student at John D. Rockefeller’s pet $23,000,000 university.

She was engaged to be married, which was a thing that was no business of John D. Rockefeller’s university.

She was presented with a hat by the man to whom she was engaged to be married, which again was no business of John D. Rockefeller’s university.

A number of aigrettes were stolen from the hat while it was in Miss Mercy’s room at a boarding house.

Miss Mercy told the landlady of the boarding house, who seems to have borne some intricate relationship to most of the faculty of the university of the theft of the plumes, which seems to have been a natural thing for Miss Mercy to do.

The landlady did not think it a natural thing to do, however. She went to Miss Marion Talbot, dean of women at John D. Rockefeller’s university, and complained that Miss Mercy had told her that a number of aigrettes had been stolen from her hat.

Then the landlady breathed into the ear of Dean Talbot the horrible information that the hat had been presented to Miss Mercy by a man, and that it was a costly hat.

Dean Talbot called Miss Mercy before her, not in order to discuss the theft of the aigrettes, but to draw conclusions about Miss Mercy’s morals from the fact that the hat had been presented to her by the man to whom Miss Mercy was engaged to be married.

Miss Mercy, placing some value upon her good name, protested against Dean Talbot thus drawing conclusions as to her morals, and was called by Dean Talbot a “woman of the streets.”

Miss Mercy complained to Harry Pratt Judson, president of John D. Rockefeller’s university. Apparently Harry Pratt Judson had heard about Miss Mercy. He was too busy to listen to her story.

Then Miss Mercy was expelled From John D. Rockefeller’s university.

The story of her expulsion, and the reason therefor, followed Miss Mercy.

Dean Talbot’s conclusions as to her morals were accepted by Miss Mercy’s employers, after the manner of employers whose own morals are so questionable they naturally suspect those of every other person.

Then Miss Mercy did what everyone must admit was a very foolish thing. In order to have her good named restored before the whole world, she brought suit against John D. Rockefeller’s university and Dean Talbot.

This was foolish. Any girl ought to have known that in this day and age, it is impossible for a mere girl, with nothing to boast of but her virtue, to fight a great university, owned and controlled by John D. Rockefeller and his Christian sentiments.

John D. Rockefellers University employed an attorney, a man who makes his bullying tactics a boast, and this attorney, and the various detectives hired by the university, began digging into Miss Mercy’s life, character and morals.

Apparently they did not find much in Miss Mercy’s life, character or morals to her discredit.

This is gathered that when the university’s attorney found occasion to get worked up about the sort of girl Miss Mercy is, he cried out in his agony, “Why, your honor, Miss Mercy is the sort of girl who likes to go down to the breakfast table in a kimona.”

Now, The Day Book does not know how the faculty of John D. Rockefeller’s university may happen to look upon the “sort of girl who likes to go down to breakfast in a kimona,” but we ourselves, being common, ordinary, everyday people, not owned or controlled by any hypocritical old bandit, do not feel that the character of any girl is blighted because she likes to go down to breakfast in a kimono. In fact, we would look upon it as an encouraging symptom of domesticity.

This, however, is beside the point. Ordinary people cannot be expected to live on the same high moral plane as that on which the faculty of John D. Rockefeller’s university meander.

But when the university’s attorney could not find any damning evidence against Miss Mercy’s character, he, being a very smart attorney indeed, began to dissect her life, character and morals of the man to whom Miss Mercy is engaged to be married, the man who had so horribly upset the feelings of Dean Talbot by giving Miss Mercy a present of a hat.

This man, being just a common, ordinary, everyday man, and not an angel, had plenty of faults. His faults were no worse than those of any other man, if the truth were only known, but some of them had dragged him into court.

So the university’s attorneys, and the university’s detectives dug up all those faults of the man, and produced them in open court, and asked Miss Mercy nasty, dirty, insinuating questions about her knowledge of these facts, and succeeded excellently in blackening Miss Mercy’s character.

Now, perhaps The Day Book’s reasoning is childish.

Nevertheless, we must admit that we cannot see what the morals or life or character of the man to whom Miss Mercy is engaged to be married may have to do with the case.

Cupid is sometimes careless with his arrows. Miss Mercy might possibly have fallen in love with a murderer. She might even have permitted herself to become engaged to a murderer.

But we do not see what this fact would have to do with the moral character of Miss Mercy.

Dean Talbot called Miss Mercy a woman of the streets. Miss Mercy retaliated by suing for slander.

The attorney for John D. Rockefeller’s university sets out to prove that Miss Mercy is a woman of the streets by showing that the man to whom Miss Mercy is engaged to be married has, in the dim past of his life, been rather intricately mixed up with certain other women.

Which we confess we cannot understand.

The newspapers of the city appear to have understood it, however, and reveled in it.

They have published pictures of Miss Mercy and pictures of the man, and pictures of Dean Talbot, and they have published all the nasty, low beastly questions that the university’s attorney was permitted to get out of his mouth and direct at Miss Mercy.

It may be The Day Book has been scooped on this story. The Day Book is very well satisfied to be scooped on it.

One of the curious ideas we cherish as to how we are going to run The Day Book is that we never are going to make capital, through the columns of The Day Book, out of a woman’s virtue, especially when that woman is fighting a lone battle in defense of her good name against John D. Rockefeller’s $23,000,000 university.

The Day Book [Chicago, IL] 27 March 1912: p. 29

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The Day Book was a Chicago paper famous for championing the rights of labour, women, and “the man in the street.”  It leavened its social conscience with generous helpings of gossip, crime, and sensational stories written for a working-class audience. The unspoken theme in this case is that a woman who would accept such an expensive present from a man to whom she is not married is highly suspect. And the man who would give such a present obviously expects something more for his money than an attractive companion. (Mrs Daffodil previously examined the delicate question of gifts in this post.)

The Sequel: Miss Mercy received $2500 damages in Judge Pomeroy’s Court in 1912. Miss Talbot appealed the verdict in 1914, claiming that she never called Miss Mercy a “woman of the streets.” The appellate court reversed the judgment of $2500 and remanded the case for retrial. The court said that Miss Mercy seemed to be reveling in the case and “admitted her engagement to marry a man who had an undivorced wife living and who had been convicted of immorality. This suit may have been prosecuted,” the court held, “in the hope of gain rather than to recover for lacerated feelings.” Rockford [IL] Republic 8 October 1914: p. 5

Miss Mercy married her fiancé Warren E. Reynolds shortly after the damage suit. The hat was said to have cost $235.

However, Miss Mercy, after leaving court, smilingly admitted that the famous $250 hat, the theft of the aigrettes on which figured in the suit, really cost but $20. Denver [CO] Post 7 April 1912: p. 7

Given this rocky start, it is touching to hear that the couple lived until March, 1958, when they died within twenty-four hours of each other.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales

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2 thoughts on “Miss Mercy’s Immoral Hat: 1912

  1. Sally and Tom Campbell

    Gossip, crime, hats, libel and birds! Thanks for a packed post, and an odd take on my favorite sort of bathrobe–I call it a kimono.

    Like

    Reply
    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Mrs Daffodil is pleased to have pleased. One does wonder about those unspecified peccadillos of Miss Mercy’s fiancé; the “immorality” of which he was convicted. And how a very smart attorney indeed could not overcome that deplorable mid-western accent to properly pronounce the word “kimono.”

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      Reply

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