Bernard Arthur Behrend to Jane Addams, May 22, 1912




May 22d, 1912

Hull House, 800 S. Halsted St.,
Chicago, Ill.

My dear Miss Addams: --

I wish to address you in a most distressing matter, asking your advice. A young woman of my acquaintance, now twenty-seven years of age, president of her church society, vice-president of her college fraternity, a teacher in a college for women, well-spoken of by her friends, respectable and kindly looking, in fact the type of girl we should ordinarily consider the purest and best has confessed to her heart-broken mother and to her brother that, when she was twenty, she allowed the man to whom she was engaged to practice immoral actions, these practices continuing for five years and stopping only two years ago when the engagement was broken.

The aggravating circumstances in this case are the following facts which I shall enumerate systematically:

(1) She accepted attention from two men during the last two years, viz., since her engagement to a young Harvard lawyer was broken, <this having been the offender.>

(2) She confessed to one of these men after she had accepted his proposal, this confession not being voluntary but a breakdown of conscience under peculiar circumstances.

(3) The repulsive nature of these practices which included every indecent practice known to degenerates like those practiced by Stanford White.

(4) The fact that these practices lasted for five years.

The young woman claims that she was innocent and was betrayed. She further claims that she did not know those practices were immoral though they included gross exposure. Under this impression the writer, having been familiarized with the facts, proceeded to exonerate the woman. A physical examination showed that owing to the unnatural nature of the practices, no physical injury had been done to her; her mental condition also appeared to be normal; her intelligence is certainly entirely normal to which fact [page 2] I can personally testify. Employing legal advice as well as the best medical talent, we conclude that a statement could be obtained from the lawyer to whom this young woman was engaged, admitting his seduction of her. Unfortunately, evidence in the shape of letters, has fallen into our hands, in which the offending man had used such gross immoral expressions and such utterly vile degenerate language that even the hardened detectives blushed with shame and declined to act, stating that no woman could be so innocent and ignorant as not to know the moral wrong of such matters. My legal counsel took the same stand, stating that the young woman was evidently of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type. Well, we only know her in her Dr. Jekyll capacity and we wish to give her a new start if we can. How can we do it?

No man, however charitable he may be, if he has high ideals would deem it advisable to marry a woman who has been through such terrible experiences. It is not the case of a woman who has been betrayed as that term is usually applied; it is the case of a woman who indulged in lust and sexual passion in the most unnatural manner. The scoundrel who aroused in her those traits of impure passion, may at any time demand blackmail threatening her with exposure to the trustees of the institution where she teaches young women, unless she satisfies his claims. My dear Miss Addams, it is a terrible experience to have brought to one's attention, trying us in every way to a sinful silence, wronging those to whom we introduce the young woman, and making us all accessories to the fact. It has been my lot to help many who have been in trouble but I am at a loss as to what to do. I am asked at this moment to recommend this woman to another institution and to introduce her into the families of intimate friends, and I have done so, but with a very uneasy conscience. I have never been guilty of such concealment and it is opposed to my nature. Will you advise me to the best of your knowledge and thus earn my deepest gratitude?

I enclose a check to your order for $50., which you may use at your discretion for the great institution which you have built. Please accept it as a sacrifice on the altar of human suffering.

Believe me,
Most respectfully and sincerely yours,

B. A. Behrend [signed]

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