A Chicago Woman Scorned (c.1872-1880)

Earlier this week I learned from my Facebook newsfeed that the Chicago Tribune has made an archive of its holdings for 1849 through 1991 which, for the time being, is both text searchable and free. It’s currently in “beta” version, I was warned, so it will change to “not free” at some unknown date in the future. With numerous Chicago ancestors to research and armed with that caveat of limited availability, I decided to poke around with a few family names to see which, if any, would come up in the pages of the Chicago Tribune during that time period.

It didn’t take long for my great-grandmother’s name, Margaret McCarthy Keating, and that of her sister, Ellen McCarthy, to pop up on my computer screen. The first date? December 5, 1872. The article’s title? “A Queer Revenge”. The (rather lengthy) subtitle?

“A Girl Entices Her Discarded Lover Into Her Room and then Throws a Pot of Lye Over Him—He Procures Her Arrest.”


You can find the article in column 5 at this link or read it in it’s entirety right here:

Scaled Image 1Bottom line, it appears that great-grandma Margaret Keating had a sister named Ellen who was jilted by her fiance, Michael Finan. In response to his romantic rejection, Ellen decided to collude with her sister (great-grandma Keating) to entice the ex-fiance to Ellen’s room under the pretext of returning some jewelry he’d given her.

The plan worked.

Ellen tossed a pot of lye at him to exact her revenge for being dumped; Finan took his ex to court; and Ellen was required to post bond in the amount of $500 (nearly $10,000 in today’s dollars!) for trial in the Criminal Court of Cook County.

I’m relieved to note that while an effort was made to hold great-grandma (“Mrs. Margaret Keating”) as an accessory in this event, Justice Eberhardt decided there just wasn’t enough evidence to warrant holding her for trial as well.  Good thing, as at that point, my great-grandma was the mother of five–count ’em–five children, ages 8, 4, 3, 1, and newborn. The third child was my own grandmother, Ellen Mary Keating.  (Oh, no! Grandma was named after my great-aunt, the center of this criminal activity? Yikes!)

Looks like I’ve got a bit of research to do down at the Cook County Criminal Courts building in the next few weeks. I simply must find out what happened in the case of the jilted lover. (Sort of sounds like an old Perry Mason episode, doesn’t it?)

But while it seems great-grandma’s name does NOT appear again in the Tribune archives (she must have had her hands full with all those kids), the same is NOT true of her sister Ellen, the defendant in this story. For Ellen McCarthy’s name appears yet again in the pages of the Tribune eight years later on Sunday, May 2, 1880.

It can be found in column 2 at this link which states that Ellen McCarthy was sentenced to one year in the “House of Corrections” for “assault to do bodily harm.”  Is this the same Ellen McCarthy who was my great-grandma’s sister?  If so, was this sentence for her assault on her ex which occurred 8 years earlier in 1872 or was it, perhaps, for a second offense that she had been found guilty of? If a repeat offense, it would seem that my great-aunt Ellen McCarthy had a bit of, what today would be called, an “anger management” issue.

Here’s part of the article (6th line from the bottom) which refers to Ellen’s sentence in 1880:

1880 sentencingIn coming up with a headline for today’s post I decided to Google the term “a woman scorned” and found this in Urban Dictionary:

woman scorned

Seems in this case though, back in 1880, neither Hell (nor Chicago) possessed the fury of my great-aunt Ellen who apparently felt so scorned.

(And I was just hoping to find a few birth, wedding or death announcements in this newly available database!)


News articles copyright © 1872 and 1880, The Chicago Tribune

Blog post copyright © 2015, Patricia Desmond Biallas

This entry was posted in Biographies, Chicago Crime, Family Legends, Family Stories, Newspaper Research and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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