The Mysterious Death of Mary Rogers by Amy Gilman Srebnick
Sex and Culture in Nineteenth-Century New York

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Synopsis

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 Allen 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' 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' 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 Rogers tells 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 Amy Gilman Srebnick

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About the Author: Amy Gilman Srebnickis Professor of History at Montclair State University. She was co-editor ofThe Mythmaking Frame of Mind: Social Imagination and American Culture.
 
Published January 1, 1995 by Oxford Univ Pr. 240 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences, Business & Economics, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

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Rogers's deathvariously attributed to strangulation (by the Hoboken coroner), drowning (by the New York City coroner), and an unsuccessful abortion (in a witness's deathbed confession)captured public imagination and provided raw material for dramatic renditions ranging from accounts in the penny ...

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Publishers Weekly

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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.

Oct 30 1995 | Read Full Review of The Mysterious Death of Mary ...

Publishers Weekly

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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...

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London Review of Books

‘The death of a beautiful woman,’ Edgar Allen Poe wrote, ‘is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.’ Mary Rogers, ‘the Beautiful Cigar Girl’ whose corpse was fished from the Hudson in New York in 1841, was the prototype for many subsequent mystery tales – not least Poe’s own story...

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