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Burying the "destroyer of one happy home": manhood, industrial authority, and political alliance building in the murder trial of Ira Strunk.

In the fall of 1885, Ira Strunk, a teacher and proprietor of a small business college in New Albany, Indiana, read in a local gossip column that "a prominent married lady was having an affair with a local bachelor."(1) He assumed this referred to his wife, Myra, and Charles Hoover, the single middle-aged son of a leading wholesale merchant. After threatening the editor of the paper for spreading what he wanted desperately to believe was a lie, he grew increasingly despondent. He soon separated from Myra and before long found himself unable to perform his duties at the college. On confronting Hoover at a men's clothing store, Strunk shot at his nemesis. But the effort was ineffectual; the gun misfired, and he was arrested for assault and battery. After posting bail, he divested himself of his New Albany interests and moved to Florida.

The story assumed a more tragic nature during the summer, when Strunk returned to appear in court. It was then that he spied the man he blamed for ruining his marriage walking down the street with his merchant father. That it was noon in the middle of town seemed not to have occurred to Strunk who stalked the men through the business district of New Albany on his tip-toes. When Charles Hoover turned and saw the gun-wielding Strunk, he pushed his father out of the way, but not before the merchant had been wounded by two discharges from the Strunk revolver. When the elder Hoover pleaded "for God's Sake don't shoot me any more," Strunk turned to his main target and fired two shots at close range. After Hoover fell on the floor of a nearby barber shop, Strunk rushed to the dying man's side and proceeded in a mad frenzy to bash in his skull with the butt of his gun until he was stopped by witnesses.

The murder trial of Ira G. Strunk became a cause celebre in New Albany. Details of the case filled the press, and some 1,500 friends and acquaintances visited Strunk during his 73 days of incarceration. While the courtroom always has the potential for great theater, rarely has the audience been as pleased with the performance as were those who came to see Strunk get off. For the public nature of the trial and its timing allowed it to be more than one man's verdict; instead it turned into the judgment of an entire class of men. For these reasons it provides us with a view into the manner in which class resentments affected the terms of public and political discourse during the Gilded Age, and how public languages like domesticity - which celebrated the virtue of the domestic environment and the ability of a man to protect it - operated as the instruments by which aspiring politicians and plebeian constituencies identified and manipulated each other.(2) Elsewhere I have argued that in the industrial city Gilded Age party politics often played a crucial role in creating the possibilities of the broad community support for the cause of labor that has been a central theme of the new labor history. Rather than accommodating workers to the prevailing order and defusing their militancy, party politicians could reaffirm worker militancy and ignite it.(3) In this instance, the murder trial of a business college professor offered an opportunity for Democratic hopefuls to appeal to a long politically dormant and culturally divided working class that was just being united into a powerful electoral constituency by the Knights of Labor.

At first glance, we have little cause to suppose that this trial should have posed such an opportunity. The murder victim, the defendant, and the defendant's wife all came from the city's better sort. Witnesses from the business community testified for both prosecution and defense. But it was the public nature of the alleged violation of sexual morality, the sensational nature of the crime, and Strunk's general popularity that filled the courtroom with observers and the newspapers with trial-related coverage.(4) All this served to make the trial a forum for politically aspiring defense attorneys, two of whom - James Kelso and Charles Jewett - were politicians who relied on the support of local workers. When the prosecution attempted to awe the jury with testimony from the city's best men, it unwittingly offered Kelso and Jewett an opportunity to articulate the resentments of a class. They did so by taking the themes of adultery and murder and using them to address the nature of manhood and womanhood in an industrial society in ways that served to delegitimate capitalist authority.

In an influential article, Joan Scott has argued that representations of gender are an important means by which power and authority are signified and legitimated in industrializing societies.(5) Gendered portraits of independent and responsible working men and moral and vulnerable women who need protection served both employer and trade unionist in their attempts to minimize the power of the other. Indeed, much recent scholarship in labor history has stressed the importance of the male worker's conception of manhood. Male artisans and their sons who entered the expanding workshops and factories of nineteenth-century America defined their manhood in terms of their ability to gain a competence - the ability to support a family decently - and they viewed wage cuts and the ever increasing division of labor as a threat to it. In efforts to legitimate their challenges to employer authority, trade-union leaders like Sam Gompers came to praise woman's moral nature and proper place within the home as part and parcel of a defense of a "living" or "family" wage.(6) The Gilded Age trade unionist defended his independence by stressing the dependency of his wife and children.

Though Strunk's defense of his own home had little to do with the "competence" of workers, his attorneys fashioned a gendered language that morally critiqued those who held authority in industry while expressing the concerns of those no longer earning a family wage. In so doing they utilized a language that celebrated dignified manhood and portrayed women as private figures with no public role, requiring male protection. While this served to raise Strunk's murder of Hoover into the realm of virtue, it also addressed questions of class and power in Gilded Age New Albany. Moreover, the trial demonstrates the manner in which public languages served as a means by which middle-class politicians could identify themselves to insurgent worker constituencies.


For Strunk's trial to make this visible, timing and context are everything. Since the War of 1812, New Albany had been a busy manufacturing town on the Indiana bank of the Ohio river. There a large and prosperous group of native-born steamboat carpenters and joiners engaged in fraternal organizations, in reform, and in local politics, bequeathing the community with the kind of active and cantankerous public life that was not uncommon in the antebellum era.

However, the Civil War changed all that, economically decimating the shipyards while encouraging merchants to move their capital into the construction of large iron, glass and woolen mills. While important connections were made between the new industrial workers and the remaining ship carpenters in churches, temperance organization, and in politics, working-class power would prove to be short-lived in the postwar era. During the depression of the 1870s all the major factories came under the control of Washington Charles DePauw. Described by an early member of the Knights of Labor as "the greatest tyrant and labor-crusher on earth," DePauw imposed his will on the city time and time again.(7) Doing his bidding, the city council vacated streets without compensation handing them over to DePauw - redrew city boundaries to exclude his glass works from taxation, and created special police forces to patrol his works in times of industrial conflict.(8) During strikes, the local press - regardless of party - defended him and printed threats to "communistic" foreign-born workers.(9) In this new and hostile environment, the labor movement became increasingly inert. Since few politicians were willing to antagonize the city's most prominent citizen - who often threatened to move his plants elsewhere - Gilded Age workers in New Albany were increasingly isolated from the support of the local community. And they would remain so until 1886.

Then, as in industrial communities across much of North America, skilled workers used the umbrella of the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor to organize and unite working people, including the unskilled, as a political and economic force.(10) In late March, organizers in New Albany were forced to turn away 200 working men and women who could not fit into their modest hall. Already the press termed the Knights of Labor "the strongest labor body that has been formed in New Albany."(11) But the Noble Order continued to grow, initiating over 500 workers on April 11.(12) While strikes cropped up in local industry where Knight organizing had been effective, the influence of the organization on workers extended beyond the workplace. With predilections toward temperance, the Knights of Labor organized family-oriented recreational activities, including dramas, balls, picnics and moonlight excursions, as an alternative to the all-male saloon.

The impact of the Knights reached beyond the skilled Protestant workers - there is no better evidence of this than that John Kerrigan, their District Master Workman, was Irish Catholic - and their brief domination of the working class broke down the traditional religious and ethnic antipathies that had long divided workers in New Albany. The meteoric rise in economic and cultural influence of the Knights in early 1886 unified a working-class constituency in New Albany for the first time since DePauw had seized control of the local economy. Efforts to appeal to this bloc of voters helped frame the case of Strunk's politically aspiring defense attorneys who used the occasion to articulate their adherence to working-class producerism, and to a version of domesticity that on the one hand spoke to the concerns and anxieties of working-class fathers, and on the other reaffirmed their suspicions about elite corruption.

Elite economic and political control of the city had only a dozen years before been associated with a form of female public assertiveness that was grounded in a vision of woman as bearer of morality. As the depression of the seventies deepened in the winter of 1874, the middle-class church women of New Albany took up the mantle of the Women's Crusade and marched from saloon to saloon, blocking access to the establishments, singing hymns of praise, and pleading with saloonkeepers to quit the sinful business. Though the women themselves were undoubtedly motivated by concern for public morality and the poverty suffered by dependents of alcoholic husbands and fathers, their attempt to rid the public realm of vice had some class overtones.(13) From the beginning, the crusade was given a meeting hall by the directors of an iron mill (among them was DePauw) who were battling their workers in a prolonged strike. The crusade promised to serve the employers indirectly by removing the strike from public attention, defusing it as a politically charged event, while at the same time it reaffirmed a temperance bent that they previously had unsuccessfully tried to impose on their workers. The link between the female crusaders and the male industrialists was not invisible - nor was it ignored. As news of the crusade dominated the local press for two months, the issue spilled over into the political realm as the unusually nonpartisan municipal election revolved around the saloon and temperance. During the campaign, anti-temperance speakers argued that bankers and capitalists were behind the crusade, using women to increase their own cultural and economic authority. One of Ira Strunk's attorneys, James Kelso, had played a prominent role in the campaign, merging questions of class and gender when he addressed an imaginary "bondholder-crusader" asking, "suppose the good and frugal wives of the taxed yeomanry should move upon the works of the bondholders, and like Jacob of old, wrestle in prayer and song with them until they consented to be taxed like common people, what would you say to that?"(14)

Female morality in the public sphere ultimately proved too politically divisive, threatening political and economic ties among men, and within a year the previously supportive New Albany Presbytery distanced itself from the crusade and adopted a position that though female morality was central for the raising of children and for home life, "woman cannot depart from her sphere without misfortune to herself and calamity to society."(15) By the last third of the nineteenth century, as DePauw consolidated his control over the local economy, a less public vision of domesticity prevailed in this industrial city.

The more narrow version of domesticity, based on the restriction of the woman to family life and the home, spoke to both middle and working classes. For the former, paternal incomes and residences were sufficient to establish the home as a moral and nourishing refuge from the world of commerce. For workers, this was more precariously achieved. The disparity between middle and working-class living conditions was most evident in the largest cities where high land values prevented workers from either buying or renting a single-family detached house.(16) In less densely settled industrial cities, lower rents allowed the working-class family to occupy small cottages. In places like New Albany, working-class families typically lived in single-story wood frame houses. Most were small and narrow, less than 1,000 square feet, and behind them the lot often stretched about twenty-five feet providing plots of land just large enough to maintain gardens.(17)

That such modest attainments were significant to the midwestern worker was attested to by a traveling correspondent of the National Labor Tribune who visited New Albany in the wake of the failed iron strike of 1874:

All our boys have nice pleasant homes, which speaks volumes for their industry and economy. They don't get more than one-fourth as much work as our Eastern men, but they study home comforts. It does a poor devil (like the writer) good to go among families like these; the wife clean and well dressed; children the same, and well behaved.(18)

Indeed, the children may have received a good deal of their mother's attention, as few married women in the city worked outside the home, and only the most desperate were forced to take in boarders. The vast majority of working families headed by men in the lower paying trades chose to rely on the income of their older children, many of whom worked in the woolen and glass mills, rather than that of the mother. Only among the small African American population was this not the case.(19) As a result, the white working-class home in the small industrial city, in some important ways, often crudely approximated the private enclave of the middle-class. And it symbolized not only the extent to which the male worker was able to provide for his family, but also the degree of control that he wielded over them.


When Ira Strunk's lawyers entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity - caused by the public nature of the alleged adulterous affair - the sanctity of the home and a man's authority to protect it developed symbolic resonance. That this spoke to workers allowed the trial to acquire both theatrical power and political importance.(20) Indeed it needed to for the success of the defense, as the jury lacked any members of the business community while it included at least a few industrial workers.(21) The desire of one of the key lawyers, Charles Jewett, to benefit politically from this most public of trials required that his domestic allusions reach beyond the well-to-do, for if state counsel Frank Burke - who called the audience the "rabble" - was correct, those in attendance were primarily workers.(22)

Though neither victim nor accused hailed from the city's sizeable working-class community, the defendant had their sympathies. Ira Strunk was a popular and respected teacher who had prepared many sons of skilled workers for employment as clerks.(23) He was also active in the Republican party and the Odd Fellows, and was secretary of a building association dedicated to helping wage-earners purchase homes.(24) Hoover, on the other hand, was the son of a wealthy merchant who had close ties with DePauw. For many the lines of good and evil, innocence and guilt, were clearly drawn from the start.

The mobilization of class sentiments by the defense was accomplished in the most facile fashion in their treatment of the array of legal talent amassed for the prosecution. Assisting county prosecutor Frank Burke and his deputy Jacob Herter were local notables David Lafollette and William W. Tuley as well as Kentuckians W. R. Kinney and Asher Caruth. Jewett charged that the size and stature of the prosecuting team suggested the trial was "to a great extent a private undertaking to the success of which some individual is contributing his personal means." Regarding the prominent Kentuckians, Jewett posed that only "some great and overpowering inducement" could have drawn such important men to the trial. The defense attorney concluded that the trial was not "a prosecution by the State of Indiana, but a private persecution of Prof. Strunk, by those who would if they could, crucify him where he stands amid the ruins of his heart, a broken hearted distracted man."(25) The portrait of the prosecution as a gang of hired guns suggested that the wealthy were engaging in an illegitimate prosecution; this is hardly startling. It was in the handling of witnesses and the interpretations of their testimony that the defense would expand the charges of illegitimate uses of power well beyond the courtroom.

The strategy of the prosecution was simple. The attorneys called to the stand thirteen witnesses from the city's business community to present eyewitness accounts of the murder and testimony as to the mental make-up of the defendant in the months prior to it. In this regard merchants William Gelbach, Charles Ruter, and Isaac Maienthal provided accounts of the two attempts on Hoover's life. Key to the prosecution's efforts were the remarks of C. L. Bradley, the superintendent of the woolen mill and the son of a DePauw banking associate, and Dr. Elijah Newland, a banking partner of DePauw and his father-in-law. The latter, who claimed to be an intimate friend of Hoover's for over 20 years, argued that insanity was a physiologically-grounded disease and denied there were any medical grounds on which to term Strunk insane. Instead he insisted that the professor had acted out of passion and anger.(26)

The prosecution brought Bradley to the witness stand to affirm the degree to which Strunk's actions were rational and vindictive. Bradley told the court that in December Strunk had inquired if he knew anything about his wife and Hoover, and then offered him money if he could get Hoover drunk and delivered to him, presumably to murder him. When Bradley refused, Strunk persisted inquiring about his wife and Hoover. While the woolen mill superintendent denied having seen the two together, he did offer to get a detective, John Koch. Bradley added that Strunk grew dissatisfied with the paucity of evidence that Koch was able to find and took him off the case. For the state's attorneys, the matter was clear. Strunk had acted out of jealous passion which led him to plot Hoover's murder for over half a year.(27)

The defense strategy was to build a case that an adulterous affair had occurred and to portray it as so public in nature that it drove Strunk insane. To do this, counsel chose to inundate the jury with the testimony of 89 persons who testified mostly to seeing Hoover and Myra Strunk at times and places deemed indiscreet. The pattern in which this information was revealed suggests that class and gender put some parameters on the details that witnesses were willing to recount. For instance Ann Draper, a widowed neighbor of the Strunks who ran a dry goods store, said she had seen Hoover "pass and repass and wave his hand and handkerchief and throw kisses towards Strunk's residence." Another neighbor, the wife of a grocer, corroborated Draper's testimony while adding she had seen the two exchange notes. A similar tale was told by the wife of a prominent manufacturer who claimed to have seen Hoover and Myra Strunk on two separate occasions passing letters across the street from her house.(28)

White-collar men testified in a similar fashion. Neighbor Ferdinand Hollman, a salesman at a Louisville wholesale grocery and a former member of the New Albany city council, told the court that he had seen Hoover and Strunk together some 20 times, and had witnessed Myra dropping notes from her window to Charles. William Gelbach, who had previously testified for the state, now took the stand for the defense and declared that he had seen the two together during the daylight numerous times on downtown streets, and once on a ferry crossing the river to Louisville. Both the President of the water works and the cashier of the Merchants' National Bank claimed to have seen the couple on the city streets. Wholesaler George H. Devol corroborated this, adding that he had once seen them together after dark riding the streetcars.(29)

In addition to these well-heeled witnesses, the defense also called to the stand a number of workers, including two prominent trade-union leaders. Iron puddler George Roberts testified that he had seen Myra Strunk hand Hoover a note in his store, while glass blower Levi Pierce depicted Strunk in the days prior to the murder as "wild" and "incoherent."(30) The respectability of their testimony - in no way distinguishable from the commercial men and women who testified - is of some note. Both were officers of trade-union locals that had long before made peace with DePauw. Workers in these trades earned distinctly higher wages than did others in the city, and they rarely came out in public support of the strikes and organizing efforts of other working people. Both Pierce and Roberts were prominent in fraternal orders and in Republican party politics - the latter sat on the city council - and both would shortly after the trial experience mobility up from the workbench into management or petty proprietorship.(31) In these regards, their experience was divergent from that of most workers.

On the whole, defense testimony suggests that it was those most likely to have responded positively to the organizing efforts of the Knights of Labor who most relished revealing details concerning the sexual indiscretions of their social betters. Significantly more explicit and less respectful accounts were offered by these members of the plebeian community. For instance, master blacksmith Albert Wylie spoke of the entertainment value that the couple had offered working people when he recounted how he, sitting in front of his workshop, spied Hoover and Mrs. Strunk meeting one evening and motioned to his companions "now, boys, you will see something."(32)

Much of the plebeian testimony located clandestine meetings between the allegedly adulterous couple in churches, particularly the Episcopal Church where Charles and Myra were members of the choir. Journeyman shoemaker John Swim, who claimed to have seen them on the city streets at night "so often I got so I paid no attention to them," did notice one evening when the couple stopped at the gate of a dark and empty German Methodist Church before disappearing. Journeyman machinist Sheridan Sowle noted he had seen them one evening standing together in a darkened entrance to the Episcopal Church. John Steele, a flattener in the glass works who lived next to the church, said he saw Hoover climb a fence onto the backside of the church property after Mrs. Strunk had entered the back door of the church. Though the two were in the church for ten minutes, Steele said he heard no music. Steele told the court that this happened often, a matter his wife Sallie corroborated. Two drivers, Joseph Fetheringell and William Bybee, claimed to have seen the couple enter surreptitiously - Hoover, in these accounts, entered through the window - and, like many others, denied that any music emanated from the edifice, which had the usual effect of eliciting laughter from the "rabble."(33)

The most serious revelations came from two journeyman painters and a young clerk.(34) One of the painters, Andy Sudduth, told the court that while employed on a job next door to the Strunk home he had observed visits by Hoover to Mrs. Strunk. The two would play music, he said, and then all at once the music would stop and nothing could be heard. The manner of the telling sent the audience reeling with laughter. Another opportunity for merriment was presented when the young clerk who pumped the organ at the Episcopal church described an encounter with the couple. During this visit to the church, Hoover locked the boy in another room. When the lad told the court that under such circumstances the organ could not be played unless Hoover pumped it and Mrs. Strunk played it, the courtroom again erupted in laughter. The testimony reached its amusing climax when painter James Shepard described the couple lying in adulterous embrace in the church. As Charles Jewett would put it in his address to the jury, "the very altar was defiled by a performance as vile and blasphemous as the worst that characterized the worship of Baal."(35)

For some, the testimony was shocking in its explicitness; the printed transcript of the trial censored it. Though Jewett defended the truthfulness of his charges, he professed discomfort with it by refusing to "soil my lips by repeating it" and denying he was "responsible for Shepard's idea of propriety."(36) Alexander Dowling likewise declined to repeat it, but his remarks further alert us to gender and class limits of proper behavior. He noted that Shepard called his wife and a female friend to witness the couple in the church, but told the court that "the modesty of these witnesses" made it impossible to corroborate Shepard's testimony. Dowling argued "their sudden flight and confusion" were proof of what they had seen.(37) Here, a woman's inability to speak, grounded in a culture that celebrated female innocence, was presented as evidence for the defense.

That the defense case rested on statements by male workers was not lost on state counsel. In cross-examination state prosecutor Burke accused Shepard of lying, and in his summation he reduced the defense to the word of two painters. Of them, he spoke of Sudduth as an idiot who followed "the painters' trade," which he described as "mostly loafing," and he thought it unbelievable that "a creature like Shepard" could have seen what he claimed and kept it to himself.(38) In their efforts to rebut the charges of sexual engagement in the church, the prosecution again turned to the testimony of some of New Albany's best men; in this instance they called on Hiram Cannon, member of a prominent banking and mercantile family with ties to DePauw, and D.C. Axline, a carriage manufacturer. Both belonged to the Episcopal Church, and they charged that due to the structure of the building Shepard could not have seen what he claimed. Further, they explained that it was not uncommon for church members to enter the building through the window when the doors were locked.(39) Cannon and Axline bolstered the prosecution's efforts to cast doubt on the veracity of worker testimony.

The elitist tone of the prosecution offered defense attorney Charles Jewett an opportunity to appeal to workers by locating dignity and manhood squarely within the plebeian community. The aspiring politician heated passions considerably when he charged that Burke would not be man enough to call the painter a liar on the street. Jewett mocked elite pretensions, admonishing Burke that "to paint houses is as respectable as to practice law."(40) Defense attorney James Kelso joined in, suggesting the odor of the journeyman's trade offended Burke's "aesthetic olfactories." Moreover, Kelso took care to refer to Sudduth and Shepard as "industrious and truthful men" and he charged that "Southern bloodhounds never growled more fiercely at the heels of a run-a-way slave, than did Kentuckians Caruth and Kinney snap and growl" at these workingmen. At one point, Kelso made a calculated slip, referring to the attorneys without their military titles and then immediately recanted, "I beg pardon - I should say Major Kinney and Col. Caruth - I would not wrong these noble Kentuckians, by omitting their titles." This, he pointedly asserted, would be cause for duel by attorneys who thirst "for the blood of [the] defendant, [and who] do not hesitate to knife Shepard and Sudduth."(41) Burke condemned such pandering to the prejudices of the working-class members of the audience and jury. When Jewett challenged Burke to call Shepard a liar outside the courtroom, the prosecutor noted that "the rabble applauded" and the defense only "pretended to request its silence."(42)

The trial offered other opportunities for defense attorneys to build their case while proving their democratic sensibilities to the expanding house of labor. Besides relying on eyewitness accounts of adulterous meetings, they aimed to discredit the testimony of the best men used by the prosecution. This reached its symbolic peak when they cross-examined DePauw's father-in-law, Elijah Newland, querying him about a similar case twenty years before in which he also had testified as an expert witness. In that instance Newland had taken the opposite position, arguing that his nephew was insane when he killed his daughter's seducer. At first, Newland denied he had done so, but when the defense brought in evidence to the contrary it had the effect of casting the banker-physician as either a liar or an old fool. Defense counsel James Kelso refused to let Newland's embarrassment speak for itself, commenting that "he had forgotten that he was even a witness at his nephew's great trial, and by this time it is very probable he has forgotten that he testified in this case."(43) The testimony revealed that Newland could change his interpretation of both events and medical definitions if a member of his own circle was involved. On both grounds Newland was successfully compromised as a witness.

A similar tactic was taken with regard to C. L. Bradley, the woolen mill superintendent who had asserted that Strunk had offered him money to get Hoover drunk. That Bradley was the son of long-time DePauw business associate August Bradley made him as attractive a target as Newland. However, in cross-examination counter charges were made that more broadly challenged elite behavior, and it did so in ways that were calculated to appeal to working-class uneasiness with the new forms of authority manifest in DePauw's industrial regime.

The defense called to the stand John Koch, the detective whom Bradley had procured for Strunk. Koch relayed a different set of circumstances regarding his introduction to the accused. While he corroborated Bradley's charge that Strunk had inquired about the possibility of getting Hoover drunk, Koch challenged his motivations, accusing the woolen mill superintendent of meaning to take advantage of the distraught Strunk by charging him the exorbitant fee of $300 for the detective's services, half of which Bradley would keep. The defense had already challenged Bradley with regard to this matter; amidst testimony that he was upset that Strunk had overcharged him for taking care of the woolen mill account books, the superintendent recalled telling Strunk "that John Koch had done some good work for me finding out about women, and he could find out whether Hoover was meeting his wife on the street."(44)

It was left again for Jewett to interpret the material for the courtroom. In his summation, the counsel for the defense described Koch and Bradley as "human vultures" who hungered to feed on Strunk's misery. With regard to Bradley, Jewett claimed to "respect the honorable name that he has inherited," but then proceeded to ask, "Will some one please tell what women he had any business to have watched? Who gave to him, a young, single man any authority to have a watch put upon any woman? This very statement stamps the character of the witness as bad."(45) The question shifted the moral terrain of the trial. Whereas Bradley had been presented to the court as a reputable man of good family, Jewett pointed out that he abused the power he held over young working-class women. Textile factories tended to limit the power of the male working-class patriarch, replacing him with a single, and perhaps predatory, young man who corruptly used the power that came with his position. By questioning Bradley's use of authority, Jewett spoke to the anxieties of working-class parents.(46)

The vision of elite immorality was reenforced when the defense took aim at the murdered man, Charles Hoover, who was portrayed as a callous and wealthy dilettante who spoiled the virtue of a wife and mother. Questions about Hoover's moral character had already been raised in the cross-examination of Bradley and Koch; in giving his version of events, the detective had noted that getting Hoover drunk would be easy since the deceased was "a drinking man." More incriminating information about Hoover's character was brought to the courtroom by J. W. Jones, a traveling salesman, who described encountering Hoover in a train car socializing with a prostitute. After the woman left, the men talked and Hoover revealed that he was having an affair with a married woman in New Albany, which allowed him not to worry about the dangers of intimacy. Married women, Hoover assured Jones, could not be spoiled.(47) The implication was that Hoover, seeking to gratify his lust while avoiding the duties of family life, destroyed the harmony of the Strunk household. As Jewett put it, testimony revealed Hoover "to be the debaucher of one woman and the destroyer of one happy home."(48)

And, the defense contended, all this was done in a willing and malicious spirit. Jewett argued that Hoover had brought on his own death by torturing Strunk beyond human endurance when he pressed charges after the failed shooting in the clothing store the previous spring. By forcing Strunk to trial, Jewett charged that Hoover expected to revel in the choice foisted upon the professor, which was in Jewett's words, "to choose between a felon's cell for the attempt on Hoover's life, or escape from it by proof that the mother of his children had been dishonored." Ira Strunk's freedom, therefore, could be won only at the expense of his wife's ruin. The price Hoover paid for creating this vile scenario, Jewett claimed, could be found in scripture, which he quoted for the court: "the wages of sin is death."(49)

In a strategic departure from the theme of insanity, the defense painted a portrait of Strunk as a virtuous defender of a simple and moral home. Hardly a momentary deviation, it was the implicit heart of the case. Dowling described the Strunks as living "in plain and simple style." Jewett noted that unlike the vile seducer, Ira Strunk sought his beloved "honorably ... in holy, honorable marriage." Within this institution, Strunk intended that "through the day his willing hands and brain might toil for her comfort, and at night he might find rest and content in her pure embrace." His only flaw was his trusting nature that made him unlikely to recognize in advance "the hellish arts of the libertine." It was in this context that Jewett portrayed Ira Strunk as "exalted, because he stood there the mighty defender of woman's chastity, man's honor, and God's religion." The shots fired from Strunk's revolver, Jewett declared, "rang forth as proclamations of the sanctity of hearth, home, and church all over this broad land." As opposed to the moral laxity displayed by Hoover and Bradley, Strunk was held up as a model of restraint. "There is something grandly heroic in the self-denial" that Strunk displayed in selling off his New Albany business interests and leaving the city, Jewett asserted. Only Hoover's insistence on pressing charges for the incident in Isaac Maienthal's clothing store forced the final fatal confrontation between the two.(50) In sum, Strunk measured up to the Victorian code of home, family, and self-restraint, and Hoover did not.

In context, however, a broader opposition between virtue and corruption appeared. Across the industrial landscape, deceitful and passionate single men, born to economic affluence and social status, abused power in a world in which patriarchal control was diminishing. Bradley had employed men to follow his female employees and pry into their private lives. Hoover, traveling for his father, easily socialized with a prostitute described by Jewett as "so vile that the story of her shame was written on every feature of her brazen face."(51) The threat to female purity appeared to be a structural one; industrialists, by reducing male adult wages beneath the level of a competence, forced them to rely on the labor of their daughters. As a result, over five hundred young women who worked in the woolen mill were subject to abusive power unchecked by parental authority. Whether the women who were employed in the mill found it oppressive or an escape from overbearing patriarchy at home made no difference in the trial; the plebeian men of New Albany were concerned about their own loss of authority.(52)

Whereas the moral grounding of domesticity had often been used by women to legitimate assertive social behavior - most recently during the crusade against the saloon - Ira Strunk's attorneys stripped away this ground and emphasized the need for men to protect women.(53) When Jewett condemned Bradley's practice of hiring detectives to spy on his female employees, he spoke to a larger concern that the working-class women of New Albany required protection. It was precisely in these terms that Strunk was raised upon the pedestal of morality, discipline and self-sacrifice. As attorney James Kelso put it, "his wife's honor to him was a priceless jewel" and "he was ready to defend it."(54)

Myra was a different matter. Prosecuting attorney W. R. Kinney urged the jury to consider that acquittal would brand Myra Strunk, the mother of "innocent children," a harlot.(55) While the portrait of Charles Hoover as a licentious and irresponsible libertine might have explained the illicit affair without attacking Mrs. Strunk's character, Jewett did precisely that Myra was labeled by the defense as a mere "vain foolish woman." Her guilt was assumed; in response to her testimony as a prosecution witness, Jewett asked "what does her denial amount to? Did any one for a moment expect her to admit it?" Now it was her shame that motivated her husband to act virtuously. The alleged affair necessitated that Strunk defend his children from their mother to the degree that he "put away from their thought even their mother's name for fear its bare mention might bring to them the shameful story of her disgrace."(56)

The defense case was a masterpiece.(57) In a city long dominated by industrialists that was only just experiencing a reawakening of worker assertiveness, attorneys Dowling, Kelso and Jewett wielded plebeian resentments against the elite at every opportunity. Whether it reflected concerns over elite control over the wheels of justice, or the power that they wielded over working-class women, they hammered at their passionate use of power and irresponsibility. When the prosecution attempted to discredit the testimony of Sudduth and Shepard as the words of "mere painters," the defense asserted the dignity of labor, a vital mainstay of nineteenth century working-class culture. Finally, the site of indiscretion in the elite Episcopal church further delegitimated the authority of the elite. Jewett availed himself of populist religious antipathies when he suggested that the "choir system" itself was immoral because it thrust men and women together and was inferior to the "good old way [in which] every saint and sinner praised God out of his own throat."(58) The jury required but fifteen minutes to find Strunk innocent.


Defense attorneys James Kelso and Charles Jewett were strategically placed to make use of this kind of defense. The former had long been identified with the political aspirations of the labor movement while the latter was just positioning himself for a political career that would tie him to worker aspirations. While Gilded Age political life was largely closed to New Albany workers due to the overwhelming power of W. C. DePauw, the temporary formation and identification of an organized bloc of plebeian voters by the Knights of Labor in 1886 provided a window of opportunity for such politicians.

The nature of the trial itself assured widespread interest among the working people of New Albany. With all its revelations of alleged sexual improprieties of their social betters, the trial undoubtedly provided "the rabble" with entertainment. The prosecution could not help but give them opportunity for merriment. When prominent state witnesses claimed that Hoover's entry into the church through an open window was not uncommon, laughter filled the courtroom. It is significant that the most damning testimony came from working-class men whose explicitness caused even the defense to blush. The result was that bourgeois refinement and moralizing were momentarily stripped away, revealing hypocrisy and corruption in their place. The Strunk trial offered politicians seeking the labor vote a chance to prove to workers that their hearts were in the right place.

There was no individual more capable of drawing on the themes of working-class culture than James Kelso, who had been raised in the geographical center of the antebellum shipbuilding community. His father had been a master wagon-maker who had experienced political success in the Know-Nothing movement of the 1850s. As he came to maturity during these years, the young Kelso became a leading member of the sixth ward fire company, an association otherwise dominated by journeyman ship carpenters. While making his way up the local Republican Party hierarchy, Kelso retained ties to the city's laboring community. As the ship carpenters led a powerful labor movement in the wake of the Civil War, Kelso made it a habit to speak at public events held by trade unions, for which he earned the moniker, "the working man's friend." And Kelso introduced a measure at a county convention to support the inclusion of the eight-hour day into the state party platform.(59) The hostility of elite Republicans led Kelso to leave the party.

Thereafter, Kelso remained an important, if diminishing, link between the labor movement and the world of party politics. As a Democrat in the seventies, he repeatedly challenged the hold of the banking community for control of the local party - for which he was termed "a ratty Democrat" by a party leader - and when that proved unsuccessful he supported an independent Greenback effort in 1876.(60) During the municipal campaign of 1874, in the midst of the crusade against the saloon, Kelso had attacked industrialists for using women to do their bidding. While DePauw's increasing power stripped away the ground on which politicians like Kelso had thrived by the mid-1870s, Kelso remained attuned to the needs and aspirations of male workers.

If Kelso represented the past, Charles Jewett hoped to embody the potential that a mobilized labor movement might offer. In making use of working-class beliefs and concerns in the trial, Jewett was taking one in a series of steps to ingratiate himself with the labor movement. In the fall he made strong efforts to gain the labor vote, recommending the Knights of Labor as "worthy of the aid and support of all just men."(61) Though he failed to gain the endorsement of the Knights leadership, Jewett still won election to the state legislature on the Democratic party ticket. Jewett did not turn his back on the labor movement, introducing a bill into the legislature that required the regular payment of miners. In response, a local assembly of the Knights adopted a resolution in appreciation of his efforts, and a number of New Albany Knights left for Indianapolis to lobby for the bill.(62)

Working-class political efforts began soon after the Strunk trial, and they climaxed with an impressive, if unsuccessful, effort to gain control of the city government. District Master Workman, iron molder John Kerrigan, ran a strong campaign in working-class wards, only to come in second to the Democratic incumbent in a three way race. In the months to follow, the iron molders' union suffered a major setback in a lockout, and without effective leadership the local assemblies succumbed to ethnic rivalries that had long divided the workforce prior to the rise of the Knights. Thus, the eighteen-month period of Knights of Labor insurgency in New Albany briefly unified workers and placed them in a position from which they mounted an important, if ultimately unsuccessful, challenge to elite control of the city.

It was in the middle of this period, as the Knights were just beginning to formulate a political strategy, that Ira Strunk was tried for the murder of Charles Hoover. Timing gave Charles Jewett incentive to turn the defense of Strunk into a critique of the moral character of the business elite. Often the social historian looks to the common pattern for an understanding of historical development, but extraordinary events like this trial can reveal to us the means by which ideas and positions are presented in the public sphere as politicians and constituencies seek to identify each other. Here the combination of personal political ambition, rising working-class assertiveness, and a murder trial allowed for the public articulation of what may have been long-held grievances. Whether it was in the defense of a workingman's word or in the revelations of elite immorality and mendaciousness, the language of the defense - fused with a restrictive version of domesticity - was one of class resentment.

Department of History Forest Grove, OR 97116


The author is grateful to Joel Bernard, Jacqueline Dirks, Jane Hunter, John Laslett, Richard Milsom, Laurie Noel, Stephanie Striffler, and Mark Valeri for their invaluable comments on various drafts of this paper.

1. This account is taken from Trial of Prof. Ira G. Strunk, in the Floyd Circuit Court for Killing Charles V. Hoover at New Albany, Indiana, July 27, 1886 (New Albany, 1886), 3-5, 7-9, 12-14.

2. On political culture in nineteenth-century America, see Morton Keller, Affairs of State: Public Life in Late Nineteenth Century America (Cambridge, 1977); Jean H. Baker, Affairs of Party: The Political Culture of Northern Democrats in the mid-Nineteenth Century (Ithaca, 1983); Alexander Saxton, The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California (Berkeley, 1971); Daniel Walker Howe, The Political Culture of the American Whigs (Chicago, 1979).

3. Lawrence M. Lipin, Producers, Proletarians, and Politicians: Workers and Party Politics in Evansville and New Albany, Indiana, 1854-1887 (Urbana, 1994); Herbert Gutman, Work, Culture, and Society in Industrializing America (New York, 1977); Alan Dawley, Class and Community: The Industrial Revolution in Lynn (Cambridge, MA, 1976); Daniel Walkowitz, Worker City, Company Town: Iron and Cotton-Worker Protest in Troy and Cohoes, New York, 1855-84 (Urbana, 1978); Francis Couvares, The Remaking of Pittsburgh: Class and Culture in an Industrializing City, 1877-1919 (Albany, 1984); Michael Cassity, Defending a Way of Life: An American Community in the Nineteenth Century (Albany, 1989).

4. In these regards, the Strunk trial resembled that of Madame Caillaux in the summer of 1914, albeit on a much smaller level. Edward Berenson, The Trial of Madame Caillaux (Berkeley, 1992).

5. Joan W. Scott, "Gender: A Useful Category of Analysis," American Historical Review 91 (December 1986): 1053-1075.

6. Mary H. Blewett, Men, Women, and Work: Class, Gender, and Protest in the New England Shoe Industry, 1780-1910 (Urbana, 1988); Patricia A. Cooper, Once a Cigarmaker: Men, Women, and Work Culture in American Cigar Factories, 1900-1919 (Urbana, 1987); Ava Baron, "An 'Other' Side of Gender Antagonism at Work: Men, Boys, and the Remasculinization of Printers' Work, 1830-1920," in Baron, ed., Work Engendered: Toward a New History of American Labor (Ithaca, 1991), 47-69; Eileen Boris, "'A Man's Dwelling House in His Castle': Tenement House Cigarmaking and the Judicial Imperative," in Work Engendered, 114-141; David Montgomery, Workers' Control in America: Studies in the History of Work, Technology, and Labor Struggles (Cambridge, ENG, 1979), 9-31.

7. Journal of United Labor, May 15, 1880.

8. New Albany, Council Proceedings, vol. 11, February-May, 1878; New Albany Ledger-Standard, July 25, 1877; Louisville Commercial, July 26, 1877. The Commercial was a Republican paper founded during the Civil War in New Albany that relocated across the river to the larger market of Louisville soon thereafter. Still it retained a strong interest in New Albany affairs.

9. For instance, see the issue of July 25, 1877 for the response of the Ledger-Standard to the railroad strikes of that summer.

10. Gregory S. Kealey and Bryan D. Palmer, Dreaming of What Might Be: The Knights of Labor in Ontario, 1880-1900 (Cambridge, ENG, 1982); Leon Fink, Workingmen's Democracy: The Knights of Labor and American Politics (Urbana, 1983).

11. New Albany Daily Ledger, March 28, 1886.

12. Ibid., April 12 and 16, 1886.

13. New Albany crusader Marie Graham Grant had only weeks before written sympathetically in her diary about a woman, left to die of consumption by an alcoholic husband, whom she had come across while doing charity work. See Lipin, Producers, 220-226. On the Women's Crusade, see Jack S. Blocker, Jr., Give to the Winds Thy Fears": The Women's Temperance Crusade, 1873-1874 (Westport, CT, 1985); Ruth Bordin, Women and Temperance: The Quest for Power and Liberty, 1873-1900 (Philadelphia, 1981); Barbara Leslie Epstein, The Politics of Domesticity: Women, Evangelism and Temperance in Nineteenth-Century America (Middletown, CT, 1981).

14. Ledger-Standard, April 9, 1874.

15. Geo. C. Heckman, An Address on Women's Work in the Church, before the Presbytery of New Albany (Madison, IN, 1875), 26.

16. On working-class homes in the metropolis, see Christine Stansell, City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860 (New York, 1986), chapters 3 and 10.

17. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, 1891, New Albany-Floyd County Public Library. In the late nineteenth century, technological improvements in urban transit, especially the electric streetcar, set the preconditions for the rise of working-class suburbs where detached single-family housing prevailed. In this regard, differences between small city and metropolitan residency patterns diminished with time. For an overview of the cultural propensity toward familial privacy in the context of changing urban patterns, see Kenneth T. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York, 1985). Also Gwendolyn Wright, Building the Dream: A Social History of Housing in America (Cambridge, MA, 1983).

18. National Labor Tribune, May 8, 1875. On the significance of the "humble cottage" in working-class thought, see Susan Levine, Labor's True Woman: Carpet Weavers, Industrialization, and Labor Reform in the Gilded Age (Philadelphia, 1984), 143-47.

19. This was due to the relegation of adult African American men to the least remunerative and most irregular jobs in the economy, necessitating the employment of their wives. Claudia Goldin, "Female Labor Force Participation: Origin of Black and White Differences, 1870 and 1880," Journal of Economic History 37 (March 1977): 87-108.

20. Lawrence M. Friedman and Robert V. Percival argue that highly publicized jury trials tended to be more like theatrical performances than reasoned inquiries and that the way they played out "tell us more about the audience than about the actors or the play." The Roots of Justice: Crime and Punishment in Alameda County, California 1870-1910 (Chapel Hill, 1981), 244.

21. Nearly two hundred men were considered, as both sets of counsel exhausted their challenges. Of the twelve finally selected, only five can be identified in city directories. Two worked in the glass works, one in the rolling mill, and another in a glue and fertilizer factory; all were "laborers." The other identifiable juror was a clerk. Of the seven who cannot be identified, none shared surnames with members of the business community; they may have been from the rural areas of the County. Trial of Prof. Ira G. Strunk, 6; Caron's Directory of the City of New Albany (New Albany, IN, 1886); Caron's Directory of the City of New Albany (New Albany, IN, 1890).

22. Trial, 121-122.

23. On training working-class children for white-collar work, see Ileen A. DeVault, Sons and Daughters of Labor: Class and Clerical Work in Turn-of-the-Century Pittsburgh (Ithaca, 1990)

24. Trial, 63.

25. Trial, 56-57.

26. Trial, 19, 51-52.

27. Trial, 17-18.

28. Trial, 21-22, 24, 30.

29. Trial, 23, 26, 31-32.

30. Trial, 24, 43.

31. Directory (1890).

32. Trial, 27.

33. Trial, 24, 26-28, 30-31.

34. Directory (1886-87).

35. Trial, 25-26, 29, 33-34, 66.

36. Trial, 70.

37. Trial, 106.

38. Trial, 33-34, 121-122. Kentuckian Asher Caruth also denounced the two painters as liars.

39. Trial, 51.

40. Trial, 67, 70.

41. Trial, 91-92.

42. Trial, 122.

43. Trial., 51-52, 83-84, 94.

44. Trial, 17-18, 20-21.

45. Trial, 73.

46. Nancy MacLean, "The Leo Frank Case Reconsidered: Gender and Sexual Politics in the Making of Reactionary Populism," Journal of American History 78 (December 1991): 917-948.

47. Trial, 36-37.

48. Trial, 64.

49. Trial, 75.

50. Trial, 62, 72-75, 104.

51. Trial, 64.

52. Women workers in the Louisville woolen mills did strike under the banner of the Knights of Labor. There was no comparable activity in New Albany. Nancy Schrom Dye, "The Louisville Woolen Mills Strike of 1887: A Case Study of Working Women, the Knights of Labor, and Union Organizing in the New South," Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 82 (Spring, 1984): 136-150.

53. There had long been a strain in plebeian circles, manifest in the Police Gazette and the Crockett almanacs, that greeted claims of female moral superiority with derision. Particularly useful is Smith-Rosenberg, Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America (New York, 1985), 90-108 and 226-228.

54. Trial, 88-89.

55. Trial, 52.

56. Trial, 63, 70, 78.

57. Jewett's final arguments have been republished in Alvin V. Sellers, ed., Classics of the Bar (1908-1924), vol. 5, 181-235.

58. Trial, 65.

59. Ledger, February 12, July 9, 1866; Grooms and Smith's New Albany City Directory and Business Mirror for 1856-7 (New Albany, IN, 1856), viii.

60. Commercial, April 29, 1874, April 9, 1876; Ledger-Standard, July 24, 1876.

61. Ledger, October 18, 1886.

62. Ibid., January 13, 20, 1887.
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Author:Lipin, Lawrence M.
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Date:Jun 22, 1995
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