Sympathetic Banking

[The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 48, issue 285 (July 1881): 121-136]

Given the scandal and notoriety of this scheme in 1880, it seems somewhat surprising that the Boston public would have been so thoroughly taken in by Charles Ponzi a few decades later.--JB


    THE time seems to have come for presenting in a compact form the history of that curious swindle known as “The Ladies’ Deposit” of Boston.  On the 25th of last April Mrs. Sarah E. Howe, its “president” and head, was found guilty of the crime of “cheating” certain of her depositors; her motion for a new trial was soon after overruled, and though it is possible that some of her exceptions may be sustained, that she may again be tried, and that through some technical defect in statute or indictment she may give justice the slip,—as she succeeded in doing when arraigned for another crime, six years ago,—yet the chances are rather in favor of her final conviction, and at all events the community may be said to have rendered its formal verdict upon her “deposit company” through the mouth of the foreman of her jury.  It is not every swindle that deserves a chronicle.  But the Ladies’ Deposit possesses almost every feature of interest which can characterize a fraud: it was successful on a large scale; it chose its victims in an original way; it was managed with much adroitness in many of its details; and yet in the total it was one of the most barefaced and preposterous cheats that ever presumed upon the credulity of an intelligent people.  The manner of its downfall was also very instructive.  So that swindle, swindlers, and swindled are each and all worth a little study.  In what follows nothing will be set down as a fact for the verification of which there is not abundant proof: the author’s opinions and guesses—of which he knows there must be many—will be branded with appropriate verbs and adverbs.

    Precisely when and how the Ladies’ Deposit came into existence will in all probability never be known.  Much of its latest history is obscure, but going backward only a year from its decease, which was accomplished with Mrs. Howe’s arrest last fall, one finds one’s self in a region of myth, and utterly befogged between the mendacity of the managers and the reticence of the customers.  Mrs. Howe herself—the very poorest of witnesses, to be sure—has said on several occasions, to newspaper reporters and others, that the idea of her benevolent enterprise originated among the Quakers of Alexandria, Va.; that it was first set agoing in a small way in Boston by Mrs. Dr. Caroline Jackson, and that she herself was first employed as its “agent” five years ago last autumn, under the “presidency” of Mrs. M. A. Rogers, a lady whom, whether dead or pursuing health in Florida, as she is variously reported—it would not be safe or easy to follow.  The date last named is quite incorrect, Mrs. Howe, as will by and by appear, being otherwise occupied in the fall of 1875.  Perhaps at that early time Mesdames Jackson, Rogers, and Howe began to assimilate the intellectual material out of which they afterwards spun their web, but it is not until more than three years later that any sure trace of their active operations can be found.  Of the hundreds of “bank” pass-books put into the hands of Mrs. Howe’s assignee in insolvency the oldest had for the date of its first deposit April 1, 1879; the title of the concern being then, apparently, the Pacific Loan Company, and the rate of interest paid to depositors two per cent. a week.  The experiments upon the name and several other indications make it probable that the business was at that time in its extreme infancy, and that the whole of its rapid little life was included within the space of less than two years.  If it existed any earlier, it must have been as a mere germ.  The pass-books given to depositors were always of a very cheap and common sort, but those of the initial series were so small, so scrubby in paper and binding, and so illiterate in the style of their entries as to be actually comical.  They would discredit the humblest grocer.  It was some time before any printing was seen upon them, the “regulations” and promises of the establishment being originally communicated to customers by word of mouth; and when at length the fateful words appeared which have played such an important part in sending Mrs. Howe to jail they were substantially in the form which has become so familiar to Bostonians, and which will presently be reprinted here.  The promissory note given to the depositor was also modeled, as soon as a printed blank was used for the purpose, upon the now familiar style, except that the name of Mrs. M. A. Rogers appeared at the top as “president,” and Sarah E.  Howe, or S. E. Howe, signed as “agent.”  The promise of two per cent. interest per week was soon abandoned, and in its stead the payment of eight per cent. a month “every three months in advance” was undertaken.  For about a year —it seems incredible, but it is true—the concern carried on business after this fashion, beginning with a few small customers, and increasing its operations steadily but swiftly, without the least public notice being taken of it or its doings.  On the 8th of January, 1880, the first newspaper comment ever made upon the Ladies’ Deposit appeared in the Boston Herald; and with that event, in which the characteristic alertness and enterprise of the paper were well shown, the mythical period of the enterprise may be said to end and the semi-historical to begin.
The story of the Herald’s original attack upon this swindle is highly instructive.  Its reporter, who was detailed to attend to the matter, apparently first tried in trousers to get the facts, and succeeded in getting little else besides snubs.  He therefore resorted to stratagem, dressed himself as a woman, and in the guise of a possible depositor went to No. 2 Garland Street, the modest brick dwelling-house at the South End in which the Ladies’ Deposit first saw the light, questioned the person in attendance, a “tall, slim maiden of thirty summers, with dark hair and keen, searching eyes,”—presumably Miss Crandall, who has figured as maid of all work, “clerk,” and “bookkeeper” for Mrs.  Howe,—and obtained a good deal of the information and no-information which has since become common property.  He told his experiences in a very lively “local” article, under the caption How’s This for High?  Eight per Cent. a Month paid by a South End Bank.   For Women Only.  How this Remarkable Enterprise is Conducted.  And then for the first time the text of the notice, pasted within or indented upon the cover of each pass-book, was publicly printed.  This was as follows:—


    The Ladies’ Deposit is a charitable institution for single ladies, old and young.
    No deposit received less than two hundred dollars, nor more than one thousand.
    Interest at the rate of $8.00 on a hundred per month is paid every three months in advance.  The principal can be withdrawn upon call any day except Sunday.
    No deposit received from persons owning a house.
    Office hours from nine to twelve M., one to four [or sometimes five] P. M.

The promissory note, also given to each depositor, ran as follows:—

BOSTON, — ,188 .
    Twelve months after date I promise to pay to the order of hundred dollars.  Value received.
        (Signed.) S. E. HOWE [or J. A. GOULD], Agent; or (rarely) A. S.

    The reporter’s interview with Miss Crandall was detailed very amusingly, and special attention was called to her answers made to plain questions as to how it was possible to pay such interest, arid who her references were:  “We never disclose the methods by which we do business;” “We do not solicit;” “You need not deposit unless you wish;” “We never give references,” etc., etc.  The tone of the article was contemptuous and incredulous, but the fact was plainly stated—and quite properly, too,—that up to date none of the promises of the concern had been known to be broken.  On the following day, January 9, 1880, another short “local” appeared, reporting some of Mrs. Howe’s own dark sentences, in which she referred to the Alexandrian origin of her enterprise, “which was long known” in Virginia “as the Quaker Aid Society,” spoke of it as a charity, and refused to tell how her funds were invested, because she was afraid of the displeasure of her superior officers.  (A remarkably fine touch of invention even for Mrs. Howe!)  This second article disclaimed any intent of reflecting unfavorably upon Miss Crandall’s personal character, but in a variety of ways expressed or implied the reporter’s conviction that the concern was a fraud.  On Saturday, January 10, 1880, the Herald—as an act of fairness, no doubt—printed a letter from Mrs. Howe replying to its strictures.  This letter is a curiosity, and but for the prime necessity of condensation should be given here in full.  In its composition Mrs. Howe probably had much assistance,—not improbably the assistance of some legal gentleman,—and its style is really admirable in respect of vigor and conciseness.  The substance of her answer was this: that the men had better attend to their own concerns; that she did not do a general banking business, did not have a sign on her house, did not in any way “solicit” deposits of anybody, kept all her promises, and had been guilty, so far as she could discover, of no offense except that of refusing to disclose to prying reporters the methods by which she managed her private affairs.  The master stroke of the letter was in one of its first sentences, in which she spoke of “the writer” of the articles in the Herald as “prudently refraining from any direct charge of dishonesty, while insinuating such a charge.”  The Herald thereupon dropped the matter, and Mrs. Howe was thus left with the last word, in which she had bidden the paper mind its own business, had assumed a most magnificent air of indifference to public patronage, and had said almost in terms that she was ready with an action for libel against the newspaper which dared directly to assail the honesty of her enterprise.  The effect of all this upon many of the simpler readers of the paper must have been to display Mrs. Howe in the light of an injured and defiantly virtuous woman, while it advertised her scheme in a seductive fashion as one which had always kept its splendid promises.  Mrs. Howe and her crew have often boasted of the good which came to them from this their first passage at arms with a newspaper.  Their testimony is generally of little worth, and the post hoc is not to be confounded with the propter hoc, but it is unquestionably true that the rush of depositors was in the year 1880, and after the publication of the Herald’s articles.  Of the seven hundred and thirty women who had proved their claims in insolvency against Mrs. Howe’s estate at the adjourned second meeting, fewer than one hundred and thirty-five had begun to deposit before the middle of January, 1880.  The fact was that in the Herald, as in many other leading newspapers, a sharp distinction was made between the “local news” and “editorial” departments.  The story of the Ladies’ Deposit was told as a matter of news by a reporter, whose strictures were in fact, in spite of occasional flippancy of phrase, sound, sensible, and full of wise warning.  Mrs. Howe’s threat was of course beneath consideration, but for some reason or no reason the matter was not taken up editorially, and the Herald as a paper did not throw its weight against the swindle.  If in the beginning of the year 1880 it had begun a resolute and persistent attack, there is little reason to doubt that Mrs. Howe and her business would have succumbed in a few weeks, and the honest portion of the community have been saved some thousands of dollars of its earnings.

    The Ladies’ Deposit now began to bud and bourgeon like a healthy young bay-tree.  In the spring of 1880 Mrs. Howe found her quarters in Garland Street quite too contracted for her business, as well as for her personal com-fort, and looked about her for a more spacious and elegant establishment. She discovered a house suited to her mind in a beautiful block on Franklin Square, and without an instant’s haggling about price agreed to pay the owner—a gentleman of high standing, who knew at the time nothing of her except that she was a little deaf, very civil, and exceedingly flush with her money—the sum he asked, which was twenty thousand dollars.  Her only stipulation was that he and his family should vacate the premises within a fortnight, it being, as she said, necessary that she should take possession at once.  Serious illness in the gentleman’s family made his prompt removal impossible, and he supposed their business relations had been ended at once and forever: but Mrs. Howe, with scarcely a pause, renewed the negotiations, which at a first interview she had begun but never completed, for the purchase of another and still finer house belonging to the same gentleman and in the same block.  His price for this building and its lot—which were situated at the corner of Washington and East Brookline streets—was forty thousand dollars.  He mentioned this as the sum which he wished to get, the amount being considerably less than he had originally paid, and used no persuasion or argument whatever.  Indeed, he needed to use none; he had scarcely named his price before Mrs. Howe had closed with him, and but for his scruples would have paid him a considerable part of the purchase money on the spot.  Within a day or two she did pay him the entire amount due for his equity—twenty thousand dollars—in hundred-dollar bills, bunched together with rubber elastics, and produced, apparently, from the depths of a bureau drawer.  A few hours later she had also settled with the mortgagee for his twenty-thousand-dollar claim, and the house and land, No. 2 East Brookline Street, Boston, were the unencumbered property of Sarah E. Howe, wife of Florimund L. Howe, then registered by herself at the City Clerk’s office as a married woman, carrying on the business of “financial agent.”  The estate was assessed that year at twenty-six thousand dollars, but Mrs. Howe, as can readily be imagined, was quite indifferent to any trifling question of fourteen thousand dollars, more or less.  The deed was passed May 13, 1880, and directly afterward Mrs. Howe, her retinue of female servants and assistants, her husband, her Ladies’ Deposit and its funds and effects, were transported to their sumptuous new quarters.  A good deal of money had been expended on repairs, on a new conservatory, and on plants, pictures, plate, and furniture.  The entire establishment, real and personal, must have cost at least fifty thousand dollars.  Nothing succeeds like success, and business now increased enormously.  Branch offices were established at New Bedford, and at No. 77 West Brookline Street, Boston.  Mrs. Howe, who had previously seemed a little shy of the eye of society, during the summer of 1880 ventured into a modest watering-place or two; everywhere living in a generous way, spending freely and with kindly ostentation, and, as the almoner or cashier of an orientally munificent charity or bank, bearing her blushing social honors—with becoming indifference—thick upon her.  The autumn came, and with it a killing frost, which nipped the root of all her gains and glories.
The destruction of the Ladies’ Deposit was the remarkable result, as The Nation well expressed it, “of a conviction by newspaper.”  The truth about Mrs. Howe was simply this: that she was a miserable old rogue, who, beggared in reputation and poor as a church mouse, had opened a swindling savings bank, and caught the savings of depositors by a promise, which she could not perform, to pay a hundred and twenty-six per cent. interest a year; capital she had none, save her own inventive impudence and audacity; she had no more hold upon the Quakers than she had upon the Pope; and the “charity fund of a million and a half,” which she had often declared to be the support of her institution, was a pure fabrication of her brain, there being no such fund of the amount of even a five-cent piece.  The object of the whole scheme was just to enable her and her satellites to live easily on other people’s money.  All this is quite plain now, and many a reader of The Atlantic will say, with a shrug, that it was equally plain to people of common sense nine months ago, or the moment they read the “regulation” promises of the Ladies’ Deposit.  No doubt; but many things which are plain to the sensible and thoughtful require demonstration to the foolish or heedless.  The task undertaken by the Boston Daily Advertiser last fall seemed formidable then: the intelligence of the community was all arrayed on the side of the paper, but the amount of dullness and folly to be encountered could be gauged by the fact that nearly a half of a million of dollars had been actually intrusted to Mrs. Howe by her dupes.  And she and her gang defended themselves, of course, to the very best of their ability; not very cleverly, it is true, but with some low cunning, and with the fury of rogues who knew that their all was at stake.

    The Daily Advertiser, as it happened, practically sustained the burden of the struggle in behalf of the public,—many other journals giving their countenance and timely sympathy, but none other keeping the sword in hand,—and the triumph of the paper bore striking testimony to the power of the press in America when wielded vigorously, persistently, and courageously, in the interests of honesty and sound sense.

    The chronology of this campaign against evil is worth a glance.  On Friday, September 24, 1880, the Ladies’ Deposit was at the acme of its prosperity, having, according to the best estimate that can be made, about twelve hundred depositors, to whom it owed about $500,000, and was attracting new customers at the rate of about a dozen per diem.  On the next day (Saturday, September 25th) the Advertiser printed its first article upon the swindle, and for the succeeding three weeks never once intermitted its attack.  On Tuesday or Wednesday (September 28th or 29th) a “run” began upon the concern, which continued throughout the week, reaching its height on Friday, when the sum paid out amounted, according to Miss Crandall’s subsequent sworn testimony, to about $40,000, and resulting in the return to depositors of a probable total of nearly $80,000.  On Monday, October 4th, Mrs. Howe announced a partial suspension of payments; and this proved to be final, except as to the payment of interest and of principal due, according to the terms of her promissory notes, all of which were for one year, and very few of which had then matured.  A pronunciamento that she would pay all claims “legally due” was made through the Boston Globe, and was evidently framed after taking legal advice.  Not sound advice, however; and on Saturday, October 9th, the Advertiser published an opinion of seven of the foremost lawyers of the city, to the effect that, notwithstanding her one-year notes, she was immediately liable for principal deposited, on the printed promise of the pass-books, “The principal can be withdrawn upon call any day except Sunday.”  There was then a three days’ lull, of the sort which precedes a thunder-bolt.  On Wednesday, October 13th, two attachments were put upon her real and personal estate.  On Thursday, October 14th, a storm of legal process burst upon her; her gorgeous house, with its contents, came into the hands of the deputy sheriffs, and the Ladies’ Deposit was no more.  In just two weeks and five days from the publication of the Advertiser’s first article, the destruction of the preposterous fraud known as the “Ladies’ Deposit,” or “Women’s Bank,” was achieved.  Fortunately for the interests of justice, the one thing which remained to do was done; and on Saturday, October 16th, Mrs. Sarah E. Howe and Mrs. Julia A. Gould (the latter a woman who had held the position of first mate in the pirate ship for several months, and whose signature as “agent” was upon most of the deposit notes) were arrested at the instance of the district attorney, upon the complaint of several of their victims, were held to bail in the sum of $20,000 and $10,000 respectively, and in default of such bail were sent to the jail of Suffolk County.

    Leaving these two ladies thus securely lodged for a little while, let us now return to the story of the downfall of the “bank,” and the intellectual and moral phenomena connected therewith.  But first it seems proper to show, so far as may be, the nature and scope of Mrs. Howe’s fraudulent undertaking, and something of the career and character of the woman herself.  The trick, it is to be noted, is not a new one, but has been played successfully at least once within the past twenty-five years in each of the countries of France, Italy, and Bavaria.  Its latest European form, the “Dachau bank” of an ex-actress, Adele Spitzeder, which was operated in Munich from 1869 to 1872, and by which the Bavarians were cheated out of millions of dollars, is intrinsically the most interesting of these swindles, and is specially so to us because it had so many points in common with the Ladies’ Deposit of Boston.  No one, indeed, who has studied the stories of the two together can doubt that in some way or other, directly or indirectly, Fraulein Spitzeder’s plan was the inspiration and model of Mrs. Howe’s.  Both opened banks of deposit, promised preposterous returns of interest, and successfully invited loans of money from the public.  Neither had any pecuniary capital, or offered any security, the sole and sufficient reliance of each being upon her own impudence and the combined cupidity and credulity of her customers.  Each made friends by playing the Lady Bountiful upon occasion, had a mixed party of gulls and knaves committed to her cause, drew herself out of poverty and into luxurious comfort by means of her bank, ended her career in prison, and left assets enough behind her to pay her creditors a dividend of about five per cent.  The absolute essentials to long-continued success, as each swindler knew, were the prompt payment of the ridiculous rate of stipulated interest, and the prompt punishment in a depositor of any want of faith by a return of her principal and a haughty refusal ever to resume business relations with her.  This latter operation, a very shrewd kind of moral “bulldozing,” Mrs. Howe and her assistants used to perform magnificently and with great effect.  Each counted with certainty upon a very rare withdrawal of principal, so long as the extraordinary interest was paid and the customer’s confidence was unshaken.  Many persons—and the writer admits to being one—at first found a little difficulty in understanding how such a concern could pay twenty-four per cent. a month quarterly in advance, even for a couple of years, without investing its funds or receiving help from without.  But the explanation is really quite simple: when once the popular faith begins to be established in such a bank, the principal flows in for some time in an ever-increasing stream, and for quite a long period there is more than enough money always on hand to meet the current demand for interest, and leave the operator a handsome margin for silks, jewelry, hot-house flowers, and all other proper living expenses,—although, of course, at every moment the concern is in fact utterly insolvent.  In the case of the Ladies’ Deposit some of the figures already given illustrate this well enough: the number of depositors in 1880 was five times as great as in 1879, and the receipts from the first quarter of the former year were therefore far more than enough by themselves to meet all the demands for interest then accruing on deposits of 1879, to take care of the usual small withdrawal of principal, and to give Mrs. Howe and her friends everything which they needed for their comfort.  To keep such a concern alive there must be a like increase of deposits upon a geometric ratio all the time, and such a rate of advance cannot possibly be maintained for many years.  The longer the thing lasts the wider is the circle of its final disaster and injustice, and the duty, therefore, of every honest man, whatever the duty of honest woman may be, is to destroy such an enterprise as soon as it is unearthed.  Mrs. Howe quite surpassed Miss Spitzeder in scrupulous obedience to the spirit of their common scheme.  The latter sometimes—though rarely, to be sure—made investments of her deposited funds; the former never did such a thing, excepting once, when she lent a few hundred dollars to a furniture dealer; and her Ladies’ Deposit had not a single cent of “income,” in the banker’s sense of the word.  Mrs. Howe, in fact, carried on her business in all its branches with appropriately Spartan simplicity.  She took her depositors’ money; kept it in the drawers of a chiffonière in the business parlor by day, as Mrs. Gould has often said, carried it off in baskets at night, and put it somewhere—probably under her bed—for safe keeping; paid out interest and principal from it when there were calls for such disbursements; bought her own house and land and furniture and fixtures with it; and always treated it entirely as her own,—which, indeed, in an important sense, it was.  For this sort of banking none of the frippery of modern masculine book-keeping was needed, and none was used; the accounts of a Fiji Island fish dealer could not have been kept more simply than those of Mrs. Howe, the Boston “financial agent,” and Miss Crandall, who testified in court that she did not know the difference between a day-book and a ledger, was the very woman to serve as her chief clerk.  Such a system of accounts works peculiarly well when the bank ends as the Ladies’ Deposit ended.  At the adjourned third meeting of its creditors eight hundred and eighty-one claims, aggregating just about $271,000, had been presented; it may be guessed that about three hundred depositors have got the $100,000 or so which was due them in full, and that perhaps two hundred others have never offered their claims.  On the credit side there is—or rather was—the forty-thousand dollar house, which has recently brought, by its sale at auction, $21,000, out of which $1000 has been paid to Mr. Howe for the release of his courtesy, and $5000 obtained from the sale of the furniture: only that; and nothing more.  How the rest of the money went the “books” of the concern of course give no idea, and nobody knows or will ever know; Mrs. Howe and her followers and friends had two jolly years out of it, at all events, and some of them very likely could account for certain thousands, if they had a mind.  Mrs. Howe’s scheme also worked a peculiar kind of inverted highwayman’s justice, as we know: she took from the poor to give to the poor, so that divers of her early customers got their money back again twice over; and perhaps some of her humble depositors, who lost all they gave her, can derive a little cool comfort from the thought that a portion of their hard earnings were handed over to a fellow-toiler who had previously drawn two hundred per cent. on her principal.  In audacity the German operator somewhat surpassed her American imitator, but in cunning the latter absolutely excelled. Mrs. Howe—or whoever elaborated the original conception of her bank—recognized the decided superiority in sensibility and inquisitiveness of the average Bostonian over the average Bavarian, and her operations were conducted, especially at first, with an almost exquisite tact.  The air of reserve and coyness with which the management enveloped itself acted like magic upon the credulity of the ordinary uneducated woman.  Miss Susan Smith went to the Ladies’ Deposit with her two hundred dollars in her pocket, a little timorous, somewhat dubious, rather incredulous.  To her surprise, she found that her patronage was by no means solicited,—was not even wished, unless she was exactly the right sort of woman and precisely met some four or five conditions.  In a few moments she began to burn with desire to enter the inclosure thus jealously guarded; and if she succeeded—as she generally did in the end—in persuading the person in charge to take her little all, she departed with a sense of deep gratitude that she had been permitted to become a depositor.   The same idea, a little varied, was beautifully carried out in the request, delicately but firmly made in almost every case, that the customer would not gossip about the Ladies’ Deposit. If, indeed, she had a particular female friend, who was excessively worthy and greatly in need, and who happened to have two hundred dollars or more, such a friend might, as a favor, be very quietly informed of the privileges of the establishment; but there was to be no babbling into the world’s rude ear about these sacred mysteries of Eleusis.  All this showed a fine knowledge of human nature, and in practice worked charmingly; the method resembling that often used in selling tickets to a charity ball, where it is mysteriously whispered to a few that the company will be very select, and admissions very hard to procure.  Nice little points were also made in fixing the minimum deposit at two hundred dollars, and the maximum at one thousand dollars.  Mrs. Howe did not propose to bother with the small savings of the virtuous poor,—only with good large lumps; and the naming of the larger sum seemed business-like and harmonious with the “charity” idea.  The story about the huge Quaker fund upon which the establishment rested, and the accompanying theory that the Ladies’ Deposit was a charity, appears to have been Mrs. Howe’s one concession to the reasoning powers of her customers: it was a small concession, and, as Mrs. Howe now sees, ought never to have been made. The scheme of the Ladies’ Deposit as a business enterprise was on its face so monstrous and so hopelessly incapable of explanation that its manager seems to have doubted its ability to stand alone in Boston.   Spitzeder, who never conceded anything to the intelligence of her clients, could have given our countrywoman a lesson on this point.  Mrs. Howe should simply have replied to all questions, “I do not disclose my methods of doing business, and I do not care for your patronage;” in every other respect she should have done exactly what she did.  The prosperity of the Ladies’ Deposit would have been a little slower in coming, but it would have come; and, though the bank must of course have exploded just the same, its president need never have suffered the disgrace of imprisonment for “false pretenses.”

    There was, however, one feature of Mrs. Howe’s plan which was both masterly and unique, and which gave what the patent lawyers call “novelty” to her improvement upon the Spitzeder invention.  The Bavarian took money from high and low and rich and poor, from men, women, and children; the American kept a bank of women, by women and for women, simply and solely.  Mrs. Howe, whose contempt for her sex’s powers of understanding was evidently thorough and profound, reasoned out the most original feature of her plan in this way: “To achieve success in a community so shrewd and enlightened as this, I must confine my dealings to those who as a class are in business affairs the most credulous, the most ignorant, and the least protected,—that is to say, to unmarried women and widows, in humble or moderate circumstances.”  If it had been practicable to weed out fathers, brothers, sons, and sweethearts, as well as husbands, from among her constituents, she would, no doubt, have been glad to do so; but such a wholesale exclusion would have been suspicious, and would have left her very few patrons; single women and widows, on the other hand, were numerous, and naturally the recipients of “charity.”  But Mrs. Howe always remained true to her distrust and dread of the creature man, and in many cases, when her fingers must have itched to get hold of a bunch of bank bills, she prudently “forbore” their “touch upon her palm,” because she discovered in the background the shadow of some vigorous male personage whose influence with the female applicant was ominously great.  It is putting it mildly to say that the success of her enterprise did not discredit the wisdom of its most characteristic part.

    Mrs. Howe’s own personal history now demands a paragraph by itself.  The chronicle is unpleasant in many ways, but it will not be necessary to offend the taste of the reader with its most unsavory particulars.  Sarah Emily Howe was probably the daughter of a man named Chase and a woman named Burr, and was probably born in Providence, R. I.  The date of her birth is of no particular consequence to the public, but, as she has quite forgotten it, and represented on her entrance into the jail last fall that she was fifty-four years of age, perhaps she may herself be interested to learn that she is at least sixty-two years old, having been married in Seekonk, November 28, 1835, to one James M. Solomon, a half-breed negro or Indian, who is now living in Rhode Island.  With this man she lived some thirteen years, and then the pair separated, the marriage being undoubtedly null and void, because the ancient statute against the union of persons of different colors was in force at the time the ceremony took place.  She next contracted a marriage with a man named Lane, or Chase, Mr. Solomon—and this is the only thoroughly droll incident in her career—playing the part of a most active and diligent promoter of her second union.  Mr. Lane is reported to have died at sea; her third marriage, which was with her present husband, Florimund L. Howe, took place in Manchester, N. H., in 1852, where he was pursuing the double vocation of house-painter and dancing-master, she the allied trades of clairvoyant and fortune-teller.  All her early life is enveloped in an atmosphere of petty crime, of which it is not worth while to give the particulars.  After her final marriage she and Mr. Howe wandered about the country for several years, picking up a precarious subsistence.  He served in the war as a musician, was honorably discharged in 1864, and soon after the pair came to Boston, where they were befriended by relatives.  Her behavior, which had often been “queer” before, soon took on such extraordinary shapes that an application was made by some of her acquaintance for her commitment as an insane person.  Her case was tried before Judge Ames, of the probate court, and after a long hearing in which she stoutly, and with the help of able counsel, resisted the complain-ant’s charges—she was on the 20th of April, 1867, found insane by a jury of six men, and sent to the State Lunatic Asylum in Taunton, whence, after a confinement of about two years, she was, it is understood, discharged as “well.”  This is believed to be the only case ever yet heard in Suffolk County by a jury of six, under the statute of 1862, touching insane persons.  In 1871 she was again in Boston with her husband, and did business as a “female physician” and clairvoyant, told fortunes with cards, cast horoscopes at twenty-five cents apiece, and in short practiced all the arts she knew, but was pitifully poor most of the time.  In 1875 she committed a very elaborate set of frauds, which carried her before the criminal courts.  She had bought a few hundred dollars’ worth of furniture from a respectable lady,—one Mrs. M.,—and was to give back a first mortgage for most of the purchase money.  Just as the furniture was delivered Mrs. M. fell sick, and the making of the mortgage was delayed for a month or two, at the expiration of which time Mrs. Howe, upon request, executed the promised conveyance.  In a few weeks, however, it appeared that Mrs.  Howe had slipped in no fewer than four earlier mortgages to two other persons, without disclosing the fact to Mrs. M., having executed one pair of deeds as Sarah E. Howe, and one pair as Sarah E. Chase, to the great discomfiture of the person who lent to her under the latter name; and she capped the climax by giving a sixth mortgage on the same property, signing thereto the name of one of her neighbors.  It would be hard to say how many different crimes Mrs. Howe committed in this affair, but she was complained of for only one,—that of “unlawfully conveying mortgaged property,”—was tried before the municipal court for criminal business in Boston, convicted, and sentenced to “one year in the common jail.”  From this judgment she appealed to the superior court, was held to bail in the sum of five hundred dollars, and, being so poor and friendless that she could not procure bondsmen even to that amount, was obliged to go to jail, and there to remain for six weeks, pending her appeal.  In the superior court the indictment was found to be faulty; the jury, by instruction of the judge, brought her in “not guilty, by reason of a variance,” and she was suffered to go free.  In 1879, when the surplus funds of the Ladies’ Deposit began to be available, she settled with Mrs. M. for the sum out of which she had thus previously defrauded her.  She was suspected, with the best of reason, of several other serious offenses, but was never convicted of any others, to the writer’s knowledge.  This is not the career of a great criminal, but of a miserable adventuress, of a woman always sorely distressed to get a living, of one wretchedly brought up and much to be pitied.  She had very little early education, and remains to this day illiterate, and in many ways very ignorant; but she has always been a keen observer, a quick learner, and a shrewd student of human nature.  It would be more nearly correct to call her unmoral than immoral; for from her extreme youth she appeared to have a serious constitutional difficulty in discerning the difference between right and wrong, between her own property and her neighbor’s.  All her thieving has been marked by a grand air of unconsciousness rather than by eager, covetous greed. Her disposition seems to be somewhat good-natured and generous, and to show a kind of native bonhomie, and at the height of her prosperity as a “banker” she became very popular with a certain set, which was especially rich in mesmerists, fortune-tellers, and female physicians of an irregular sort.  In one respect, as all disinterested persons who have known her well will testify, she is really distinguished: she is one of the most exuberant, spontaneous, imaginative, and unnecessary liars that ever breathed, decidedly preferring falsehood to the truth even when the two seem equally serviceable.  She has a great natural gift of utterance, and a singularly plausible manner, and has often overpersuaded the incredulous in the very teeth of their better judgment.  There is a touch of craziness every now and then in her looks and words which is quite suggestive of the Taunton episode, but which is not inconsistent with her possession of abundant cunning.  That she is not a rogue of the first order can be inferred from her investing in her own name in a house, and from her paying out so much of the Deposit money during the run, instead of eloping with it.  Having sailed prosperously so long, and weathered one heavy gale, she evidently thought she could save her ship even in a great typhoon; a clearer-sighted rascal would have seen that the game was up.  Besides this, Mrs. Howe was ignorant enough to believe that her house could not be taken from her so long as she had the deed of it in her pocket.  There is of course great doubt whether a person of her calibre could have conceived and operated the Ladies’ Deposit without help from some mind of greater strength, and more erudition in the art of cheating, and this is a doubt which will very likely never be solved.  Up to this time Mrs. Howe is the only person who can be certainly identified as the brain and fingers of the swindle.

    It would be vain to attempt, in the space that The Atlantic can spare, a minute account of the newspaper work of the three weeks in which the downfall of the Ladies’ Deposit was wrought.  Nothing at once more exciting, varied, amusing, pathetic, instructive, and satisfactory has been known in the history of our journalism.  There were good things about the matter in all the Boston papers; bright bits came from the country towns, from New York and the West, and the Advertiser was filled from day to day with interesting and clever articles.  Such a rallying in of volunteer correspondents was certainly never seen here as to quality.  Bright men started up like the seed of Cadmus, each with some keen, or sensible, or witty, or learned contribution to the war against fraud.  Amongst them the story of all the European prototypes of Mrs. Howe’s bank was vividly told; several of them, who had previously looked into and seen through the swindle, told their experiences with the lady “managers;” one of them, who signed himself “Drowsy State Street,” showed in figures which must have given Mrs. Howe a cold shiver exactly how her scheme could be made to work in practice.  Yet some of the argument made both by the paper and by its special contributors seems almost childish now.  In hundreds of different ways the intelligent reader was entreated to take notice of the fact that two and two make four, always made four, never made five, or sixteen, or three hundred, or seven thousand.  Mrs. Howe was handled rather gingerly at first, as if there were a bare possibility that she might be something better than a thief.  Her Quaker fund of a million and a half was discussed at times almost gravely, and readers were requested to consider whether it was likely that such a sect ever had such a fund, or would ever have such a fund, or would intrust such a fund if they had it to such a woman as Mrs. Howe, or would leave it without watching it, etc., etc.  Pretty soon Mrs. Howe was challenged to tell what her investments were, who subscribed to the Quaker foundation, how she had climbed from penury to luxurious ease in three years, and where she got the money to buy her fifty-thousand-dollar house.  The air, indeed, was vocal with challenges to common sense, and dumb while the answers were awaited.  In spite of the self-control generally practiced, the thorough contempt of most of the male writers for the credulity of the female victims often cropped out.  It had come to light that Mrs. Howe’s customers—who, although principally in Boston and its suburbs, were scattered widely through the rest of Massachusetts and New England—were counted by hundreds, and included many ladies of good social position, some teachers, and a few authors and artists; that for about six months there had been a perfect craze among women to become depositors; and that divers of them had begged and besought their male friends to lend them money at six per cent. in order that they might live on the ninety per cent. of profit to be made by the de-posit.  One old woman was discovered who had mortgaged all her worldly possessions for a thousand dollars, and handed the sum over to Mrs. Howe without a tremor.  One person, who had made a like deposit of all she was worth, was reported to have gone to Europe, where she found it easy to live on her income of nine hundred and sixty dollars per annum.  The idea that there was any degradation in being pensioners upon “charity” never occurred, so far as the writer has heard, to any of Mrs. Howe’s customers,—not even to those who were well to do and quite capable of taking care of themselves.  The men sneered at all this so contemptuously that the spoken rejoinders were generally meek and timid.  Generally, but not always.   Not a few of the customers mustered the courage to say their souls were their own, and some of them even went farther than that.  At the bank itself, every day, in the very midst of the “run,” dozens of energetic females were to be seen, furious at the papers, sorry for the “persecuted” manager, and firmer than ever in their faith in the Ladies’ Deposit.  It was not uncommon for them to lift their hands to heaven and implore its continued blessing upon Mrs. Howe’s head and the “divine charity” of which she was president.  Very often they gave expression to the pleasure which they had taken and still expected to take in transacting business at the Ladies’ Deposit, for Mrs. Howe, with excellent judgment, had grown franker, easier, and more friendly as her circle of operations had widened.  One elderly woman at one of these séances sketched in very vivid language the difference between the treatment she received at the men’s savings banks, where they grabbed her money without a thank you, and threw her her pass-book without a word, and at Mrs. Howe’s, where she was urged to take a chair, kindly thanked for her deposit, encouraged to present the questions connected with her “winter suit,” and where, as she expressed it in one felicitous word, the banking was “sympathetic.”  On the other hand, the male writers not only sneered at the women who deposited for their ignorance and credulity, but lectured them for their dishonesty in accepting or seeking an amount of interest which of course must be stolen from some other women,—a charge, in the writer’s opinion, most unfair and unkind, for no woman whose understanding allowed her to trust the Ladies’ Deposit could have been capable of grappling with the question as to where her interest came from.  There was one class of Mrs. Howe’s adherents who surpassed any who have yet been mentioned: a couple of hundred or so of these to this day admit no decline in their faith, and say that if Mrs. Howe were allowed to go free she would soon pay all she owes to such as had always clung to her.  Many of these persons are evidently “stool pigeons,” and perch suspiciously near to the “president,” but some of them are as evidently sincere, and their existence proves the power of Mrs. Howe’s personality as well as the fathomless folly of human nature.  Out of these devoted dupes the attempt was made—and for a little while with some promise of success—to raise a subscription fund of $1000, in order to secure the services of General Butler in defense of the woman who had robbed them.  Of any one of this sort Mrs. Howe might say as Iago of Othello,—with a very slight change of Shakespeare’s text,—“I have made her thank me, love me, and reward me for making her egregiously an ass, and practicing upon her peace and quiet.”  The most ludicrous features of the whole business were the suggestions that the hostility of the men grew out of their jealousy at female success in financiering which they could neither understand nor equal, and that a feeling of “gallantry” ought to have deterred them from so vigorously attacking the schemes of a number of “ladies.”  It looked a little as if some rather intelligent women were touched by the latter idea.  But it was too absurd a point to argue: the policeman who stops the hand of a murderess or even of a female pick-pocket may surely be pardoned for deranging her crimes.  On the 2d of October, it is to be noted, Mrs. Howe appeared in her own defense in a long communication addressed to the Advertiser, in the composition of which she had plainly been helped.  This letter was simply a piece of insolent vulgarity, without argument or even sense, and showed from beginning to end the hand of a desperate adventuress.  It followed hard upon the appearance of a certain carpenter at the Advertiser office, whom Mrs. Howe had sent to the editor upon a vain message of peace, and whose services as ambassador she had secured by the payment of five dollars in advance.

    During the three weeks in which the Ladies’ Deposit was the subject of all this varied comment, not a person of any recognized position in the world of society, of business, or of thought had a word to say in support of the fraud, or attempted to weaken the attack upon it, with one notable exception.  On the 5th of October, there appeared in the columns of the Advertiser a letter signed by Miss Mary Abigail Dodge, of Hamilton, in which the critics of the Ladies’ Deposit were criticised, and the concern and its “president” defended.  It appeared at first to those who read this letter that there must be some mistake about its authorship.  To be sure, there were touches in it of Miss Dodge’s keen wit, traces of her shrewd humor, many of her characteristic vivacities of style; but where were the clearness of sight, the swift intuition, the “saving common sense,” by which so much of her writing had been distinguished?  Where, indeed?  Anger seemed to be the inspiration of the epistle, and in many places its words “breathed a kind of fury,” and struck here, there, and everywhere, like the blows of a man blind with impotent rage.   What the production as a whole meant, or was meant to mean, few persons after reading it could tell, unless it were the old familiar truth that the men were a poor set of sneaks, incapable through their dullness of comprehending feminine enterprise, through their baseness of appreciating feminine benevolence.  Miss Dodge’s comments upon the Advertiser’s articles were very amusing.  Its trustworthiness in reporting she pulverized by triumphantly showing that the paper had contradicted itself as to the regulation hour of closing the bank for business, and had in one place insisted that that hour was five, when in point of fact it was four!  The chronicle of Mrs. Howe’s career she characterized as “scullery scandal,”—though every word of it was true, and its most important statements could be verified by reference to court records which were cited, or to living persons whose names were given.  Finally, in one peculiarly unfortunate sentence Miss Dodge let it be seen that she had a very faint conception of what she was talking about.  She quoted from the Advertiser, “Every one with a moment’s thought knows it is impossible to fulfill its [the Deposit’s] extraordinary promises [of interest] except for short periods,” and this was her reply: “Very well.  It is only necessary to fulfill them for short periods to secure every one against loss.  How short?  In nine months and two weeks every woman receives her whole capital back again.”  “Bredren, if ebery one of you would jus’ come early, ebery one of you could have a front seat,” said a darkey preacher to a crowded congregation that complained of insufficient sittings; which anecdote coupled with Miss Dodge’s own words “is enough” and “will serve,” as Mercutio says, to demonstrate just how well she understood the situation at Mrs. Howe’s bank.  It is not the writer’s purpose to moralize Miss Dodge’s letter, and her sufferings from press and magazine ridicule just after its publication must have expiated any fault she committed; but no record of the decline of the Ladies’ Deposit would be complete without a mention of her contribution.  The truth seemed to be that Miss Dodge had attempted, with some personal sacrifice, to help certain poor acquaintances to comfort by depositing for them in this bank, and that the newspaper attacks which soon followed ruined her kindly projects.  She was naturally disappointed, and perhaps not unnaturally angry.  But the extreme rage even of a clever woman will not enable her to write a sensible letter on a difficult subject of which she has no knowledge.  Afterward, in the Boston Journal, Miss Dodge hedged a good deal,—so much so, indeed, that her last utterances were darker than Delphic oracles.  In the light of subsequent events her public attitude has an intensely comic look.  One may picture the situation as something like this: Miss Dodge, clad in flamboyantly feminine garments, surmounted by a brilliant sunshade of a golden red, sits tranquilly in the midst of a plain upon a camp-stool.  She is presently aware of a squad of journalists rapidly approaching from the front.  “Madam or Miss,” says the chief of the troop, “permit us to inform you that a furious cow is making at your rear, with intentions evidently hostile to you and your parasol.”  “And why so officious?” sniffs the lady; “why so critical of the conduct of a cow?  Poor spiteful man, look to your own sex.  Are the bulls all peaceful and harmless?  Answer me that?”  “They are not, I confess it,” the journalist replies, “and numbers of them now gore at large; but really, Miss, this cow, which is now quite near you, has a very bad reputation, and”  “In-deed!” Miss Dodge interrupts, “has she so?  And how did you learn that?  Have you seven affidavits in your breast-pocket to make good your charge?”  “Not quite seven,” the reporter stammers, “but I have three, and very strong ones, too.”  “Tell me, then,” rejoins the lady, “what color do you claim that this animal’s eyes are?”  “Dark green, I should say,” gasps the penman; “but really I have not—”  “I thought as much,” shrills Miss Dodge, “miserable lying caitiff, with your three little wretched bits of scullery scandal trying to ruin the fame of a cow that has sky-blue orbs!  And has it occurred to you that the presence of you and your low companions might excite a beast otherwise harmless to injurious rage?  I can inform you, however, that the cow which you thus cruelly asperse is the most gentle and charitable quadruped”—  And upon this word the catastrophe comes, Miss Dodge and her theories go up together, and her parasol is carried off on the animal’s horns.  We chastely avert our eyes.  The lady herself must be on her feet again very soon, and it will be interesting to know which of her theories survives the shock, or whether she admits that she and they were tossed at all.  Most men will probably remain firm in the opinion that her disaster was the result of her sex, her parasol, and the cow’s disposition combined.

    The remainder of the story may be quickly told. On the 18th of October, 1880, Mrs. Howe and Mrs. Gould were brought up in the municipal court of the city of Boston for criminal business, waived examination, and were held to bail for their appearance in the superior court in the sums specified at the beginning of this article.  In a few weeks they both obtained bail and were set at liberty; but a little later Mrs. Howe was surrendered by her bondsmen and returned to jail, where she has spent most of the time since her original arrest.  Her trial in the superior court before Mr. Justice Aldrich occupied several days, and she was defended by A. O. Brewster, Esquire, and C. H.  Crosby, Esquire, with all possible vigor and devotion.  The indictment against her was in five counts, and charged her with “cheating by false pretenses”—a crime distinguished in our statutes from “common cheating”—five different depositors.  The false pretense alleged and proved was her statement of the existence of a Quaker fund of a million and a half upon which her “bank” was founded, which false pretense induced the women named in the indictment to give her their money.  The government did not ask for a conviction upon the fifth count.  The judge conducted the trial with the utmost care and with scrupulous impartiality.  The government was ably and powerfully represented by Mr. M. O. Adams, the assistant district attorney.  The jury took a little more than an hour to deliberate, and rendered a verdict of guilty upon each of the first four counts, and of not guilty on the fifth.  The prisoner’s exceptions to certain of Judge Aldrich’s rulings are still pending, as has already been said.  A “true bill” was found by the grand jury against Mrs. Gould, but she has not yet been tried.  Soon after Mrs. Howe’s arrest her depositors attempted to find and take her property, and various legal proceedings were begun for that purpose, in all of which Mrs. Howe, aided by her attorneys, was as obstructive as possible.  It was not until November 5, 1880, that she was adjudicated insolvent, under the “involuntary” process; and a fortnight later Augustus Russ, Esquire, was appointed her assignee, with results which have already been substantially set out.  From the first to the last of the whole business the police and detective force of the city of Boston stood simpering by.  The matter transcended all their experience and precedents, and they were as helpless, as useless, and as mute as so many oysters in the bed of Charles River.  This is not the first instance, nor is it the tenth, in the history of this country in which crimes have been discovered and criminals brought to justice through the agency of the newspaper.

Henry A. Clapp.

[The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 48, issue 285 (July 1881): 111-121]


    “The insolence, the ignorance, and the stupidity of the age has embodied itself and found its mouth-piece in men who are personally the negation of all that they represent publicly. We have men who in private are full of the most gracious modesty representing in public the most ludicrous arrogance; . . . we have men who have mastered many kinds of knowledge acting on the world only as embodiments of the completest and most pernicious ignorance.”

    Mallock was speaking of the Boston Ladies’ Deposit Campaign, only he did not know it.

    Upon this solid and firmly entrenched mass of insolence, ignorance, and stupidity one person can hope to make but little impression. Yet I suppose there is greater joy in heaven, and I know there is greater joy in earth, over a cordial thwack at it than over most other attainable forms of pleasure.

    The Boston newspapers hurled Mrs. Howe upon society like a glass bomb, and when she struck the explosion shattered reputations in all directions.  Under that detonating dynamite disappeared the intelligence and the morality of women.  The female school-teacher was denuded of all fitness for her position, and the woman suffragist was not left a leg to stand on.  Now that Mrs. Howe, after legal investigation and by legal process, has been pronounced guilty, and local moral inflammation may be assumed to be somewhat allayed, I propose to show that the history of the Ladies’ Deposit does not demonstrate the credulity of women, the immorality of women, or the educational or political incapacity of women; while it does show that men, so far as the Ladies’ Deposit has tested them, are untrustworthy as reporters of facts or reasoners on facts, that they have either not culture enough to tell a straight or not conscience enough to tell a true story, and that they are utterly incompetent to be intrusted with the educational interests of children or with the financial interests of women.

    In endeavoring to reconcile this slight discrepancy of opinion between Boston and myself, and declining to admit even for the sake of peace that geese are swans and swans are geese, I shall be obliged reluctantly to give the history of my own brief connection with the Ladies’ Deposit, and to speak of messieurs the newspaper moralists with considerable frankness; but for the egotism I do not apologize, since it is but the gathering point of odium; of the courage I do not boast, since it is not founded on respect.

    Having thus amicably arranged the preliminaries, I invite the attention of all who are interested in abstract truth, or in the morality of public schools, or in the adoption of woman suffrage, or who wrought folly in Israel by sheepishly following a sudden clamor.  If my invitation is accepted, there will be silence in Boston for the space of half an hour!

    I first heard of the Ladies’ Deposit September 11, 1880, in my own house, from two ladies, of whose character and social standing I need, as the world is at present constituted, say no more than that one was a personal friend and some-time guest of one of the proprietors of the Boston Daily Advertiser, and the other a kinswoman of one of the editors.  They had been told, as they informed me, that the Ladies’ Deposit had been in existence eight years.

    That it paid to depositors eight per cent. a month.

    That no woman who owned more than fifteen hundred dollars, and no wife of an able-bodied man, was allowed to deposit.

    That no one was allowed to deposit less than two hundred or more than one thousand dollars.

    That no woman was allowed to add her interest to her deposit, on the ground that she needed her interest to live on; that subsequent additions might be made to her deposit, but that the interest was to be paid to her and taken away by her on the day it was due.

    That a lady of wealth might deposit for a poor lady whom she wished to benefit.

    That every new depositor must be introduced by some preceding depositor.

    That the Ladies’ Deposit had been attacked by the newspapers the preceding winter as a fraud; that the attack had produced a “run” upon the Deposit; that the Deposit had made no reply, had not asserted, defended, or explained itself, but had paid all dues demanded, and had declined to receive again deposits from those who had withdrawn them on account of the panic.

    That the Deposit made no statements regarding its own character, and no solicitations for deposits.

    I believe this information was substantially correct, with two exceptions: I have seen no proof that the Deposit was more than three years old, and there is evidence that it did at times profess to be a charitable institution.

    The idea that the Ladies’ Deposit was a bank, or in any ordinary sense a business institution, was not entertained by my informants,—did not even present itself for discussion.  The only question was, Is it a charity, or is it a cheat?  This was debated with a liveliness, not to say levity, with a mixture of faith and fun, which, in view of the subsequent development of the decadence of female morals, cannot be too severely condemned.

    In favor of the fraud theory stood only the general improbability of any-thing else.

    In favor of the charity theory appeared (1) a yearly percentage nearly equal to the amount deposited. To the small capitalist six per cent. a month would be as alluring as eight, and to the swindler it would he more profitable.  But if it were designed by a benefactor to help the worthy poor, if it were designed not to pamper paupers or to pauperize workers, we could see a reason for fixing upon a test sum not far from that which is required of voters in England, and then rewarding as well as testing thrift by bestowing that sum upon the accumulator in the guise of yearly income.  That the amount deposited was not allowed to exceed a thousand dollars, that it was paid back in little more than nine months, that it was not allowed to remain at compound interest, but that each quarter’s interest was imperatively awarded to the depositor, seemed to indicate the presence of some principle that was not greed for money.

    (2.) That each depositor must be introduced by some previous depositor seemed to fix character as the basis of benefit.  It seemed also that the Deposit might design thus not only to guard itself against imposition from the unprincipled rich, but to confine its operations within a manageable compass. As the Deposit had been several years in existence, as I had never heard of it before and my informants only within a few days, though living under the shadow of its refuge, it must have gone on quietly, without parade or publicity to tempt the adventurer; and might have been intended to pass only from the lips of one beneficiary to another, thus attracting only those whom it was to help, and designing not to attract even them in numbers too great for its resources.

    (3.) The year’s accumulation being paid back each year to the accumulator freed her in one year from possibility of loss, while in case the Deposit should at any time find its project unwieldy she would not be cast adrift, but would be left with at least as much capital as she brought to the Deposit at the outset.

    (4.) That the Deposit had been in existence for years, had been attacked and had withstood the attack, without boisterousness or belligerency, but simply by going on its own way and paying its depositors all their dues, seemed an indication of strength.

    All these devices might indeed be the ingenious invention of dishonesty, but they would be the natural development of benevolence.  If there had been a great charity at the basis, I do not see how any wiser mode of distribution could have been framed.  In view of the inexpressible relief which was afforded in the dozen or so cases of which I learned in the course of the discussion, I feel a thrill of regret whenever I remember that there was nothing in it.

    In regard to general probability, I candidly avow that no originality and no magnitude of charity is so incredible as that the Omnipotent Creator of the world should let things go on as they are.

    To the religious newspapers, whose hearts have been wrung by the decline and fall of female morals indicated by the Ladies’ Deposit, let me make a consoling suggestion, which may be “skipped” by the world’s people.  I have been told that Dr. Cullis professes to support his Home for Consumptives in the heart of Boston on prayer alone.  In Brooklyn the Woman’s Faith Home for Incurables has just published its Fifth Annual Report, and laid the cornerstone of a new building with joyful shoutings of Grace! grace unto it!  I am not fully prepared to accept the philosophy of these institutions, but it is not denied that they are institutions,—established facts.  Dr. Cullis and the Misses Campbell publicly announce that prayer and faith constitute their only capital.  f course, the virtue of the act consists in exercising the faith and offering the prayer, not in proclaiming them.  If, then, prayer and faith, standing in the synagogues and on the corners of streets, can build houses and found homes, is it impossible that prayer and faith in the closet with shut doors can support poor women in homes of their own?  If Christ could fish no money out of the sea wherewithal to pay his taxes, and if he said, “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do,” why should it seem a thing incredible that he should pluck from the pockets of the rich a hundred fold or ninety-six fold the slender means of the deserving poor?  I understand that Dr. Cullis’s prayer is answered and Miss Campbell’s faith justified through the workings of divine impulsion on the hearts of men to give the carpets, the bread, and the medicine which the invalids are known to want.  Why is it imbecile or immoral to think divine power could work with equal facility in the heart of a man, for instance, who was bred on the stony acres of a New England farm; who saw a widowed mother grow prematurely old from hard work, a sister’s youth ground into senility between the upper and nether millstone of unrelenting need?  Going thence into the golden fields of California, or the silver mountains of Arizona, such a man should be far more likely to turn the streams of his manhood’s wealth into the pit whence he was digged, should be far more likely to convert his money into rest and comfort for such mothers and sisters as won the deep compassion of his youth, than to build a house with sixty bedrooms, or buy the Column Vendome to illuminate for a ball-room.  It has happened to me to be more conversant, probably, than most men or women, with the anxieties, the apprehension, the courage and the conflict, the heroism, and the martyrdom, of this class of women, and I can think of no way in which a fortune could be more satisfactorily spent than in raising them out of the shadow and foreboding in which they live to the heart’s ease of ever so modest an independence.

    Leaving the realms of prayer and faith, and returning to the palpable ground of good works, we actually have some magnificent charities. When the Bergen Savings Bank failed, Mr. William Walter Phelps, a politician and an office-holder, late a member of Congress, and now minister to Austria, himself, though entirely irresponsible for the loss, paid to the small depositors their dues.  It is said to have cost him twenty thousand dollars, and from a business point of sight I do not see how it can be justified; but for solid happiness how can it be surpassed!

    When the Hon. Philetus Sawyer, United States senator, paid off the mortgages of his poor neighbors and employees to the amount of thirty or more thousand dollars, and lifted the burden from Heaven knows how many heavy hearts, he was financially a fool; for money is made by foreclosing, not lifting, mortgages.  But “Uncle Phile” did it, and I venture to say no investment ever gave him more real satisfaction.  All the credulity involved in believing that the assuaging of human sorrow is the highest prerogative of wealth, and that in the present stage of the world’s spiritual history wealth may at any moment assert its prerogative, I not only admit, but avow.  And I maintain further that this credulity pertains neither to imbecility nor immorality, but is the natural result of our progress towards the higher life.  No one can live long and intimately in political circles without being prepared for any development whatever of generosity and magnanimity.

    At the time I learned of the Ladies’ Deposit, I had in special sympathy three women, each alone in the world; two faltering through failing strength, after having fought a brave fight; all de-pendent on their own slender hands, or the compassion of chance friends; all highly educated, and nurtured in refined homes.  I said I would try the Ladies’ Deposit for them. If it were a bubble, my touch would be sure to burst it, judging from the gamesome precipitancy with which all stocks, bonds, and values shrink under my meekest approach.  If it were indeed a rain from heaven, it was little for me to see that a friend’s dish was right side up.

    I begged an introduction from a depositor, and September 18th, one week after I first heard of it, I visited the Deposit.  The house looked like any Boston house, solid and respectable, but in no way noticeable.  The Pompeian splendor, the tropical bloom, which afterwards burst forth refulgent in the newspapers did not reveal themselves to my rustic gaze.  A single visitor was present, besides myself,—a lady who only made inquiries, and was quietly and simply answered.  Two women transacted the business: one curt and arrogant, as who dispensed a charity rather than lured a victim, the other noticeably gentle and pleasing.  I said to them that I could make no deposit myself, under their rules, but I should like to deposit for some one else, whose circumstances I related.  They suggested that she come herself to make her statement and receive her note.  As I had not consulted her I did not feel at liberty to use her name, nor did I feel sure enough of the nature of the institution to be willing to subject her to the risk of disappointment.  I said that I preferred myself to be the agent.  They did not strenuously object.  The only thing in the whole interview which impressed me unfavorably was that they were unwilling to take a check even upon the New England Trust Company of Boston, an institution whose stability and order are but feebly represented by the eternal march of the stars in their courses.  I have a great though a somewhat blind faith in checks.  They have a way of coming back to you when lost, and of proving things you have forgotten, which makes them seem like a friend, while they have also a uselessness which never tempts the burglar or burdens the possessor; so that life would be rather cumbersome and unwieldy without a system of checks, and a New England Trust Company to reckon on for the perpetual rectification of one’s accounts.  That the Deposit should not be willing to take a check looked like not living up to their privileges,—like not wishing to put themselves in the line of direct testimony.  It had not much weight with me, but it had a little,—just enough to make me deposit for only one of my protégées, and to decide not to mention the others, but to wait a while, then to apply by letter, and see whether the Deposit officers really had any repugnance to putting themselves on paper.  September 29th, therefore, I wrote to the Deposit a letter, of which I kept no copy, describing my other applicants, and saying that I would not willingly even seem to wish to encroach upon so divine a charity by grasping its benefits for persons who were not with-in its scope,—and viewed myself as a rather acute financial diplomatist.  So far from considering myself credulous, I fancied that I was feeling my way along with a most commendable caution.

    In this exact conjunction stood the larger planets on the evening of Saturday, October 2d.  My own interest was of a tentative and comparatively languid nature,—the interest attaching to a lively hope and a bare possibility on which one has ventured two hundred floating dollars; an interest entirely secondary to picking forty bushels of apples, making three barrels of cider, harvesting seven hills of potatoes as the result of three acres of tillage, pulling turnips which a healthy horse will not eat, and gathering the eight squashes of which even the Boston Daily Advertiser must be sorry to learn that six turned out to be pumpkins.  Certainly nothing was further from my thoughts, when I plucked a moment now and then from the farm to try the Ladies’ Deposit, than that the act should have the smallest interest to any one but myself, and, in the event of success, those whom I hoped to help.

    Saturday evening, October 2d, my original informant sent me word, in some consternation, that the newspapers were attacking the Deposit again; that “they said dreadful things about Mrs. Howe,” that my informant’s friends were alarmed, and had withdrawn their deposits, and feeling that she was responsible for having involved me, desired authority to secure mine.  She also furnished me the Boston Daily Advertiser of September 30th and October 2d to show the state of the case.

    Before reading the Advertiser’s exposé I replied that I had acted solely on my own risk; that even if the Deposit were a fraud it would, in case of a run upon it, pay out all it possibly could in order to keep itself alive; so that if my money did not go to the woman for whom it was intended, it would go to some other poor woman, and would not therefore be really lost, and I would let it be. (I forgot the lawyers!)  It did not occur to me to do anything else; but since reading what the Boston newspapers seem to have considered the natural thing for one to do, I protest I am lost in admiration of my own moral heroism.

    Then I read the two Advertisers, and found columns of very low scandal, rumor, conjecture, contradiction, wholesale objurgation of women, a great deal of gleeful, not to say gloating, narrative, but, to my surprise, not one particle of evidence.  They even supplied the missing link by saying that Mrs. Howe had asserted the Ladies’ Deposit to be a charitable institution.  A letter from Mrs. Howe herself, published in one of the papers, was not reassuring, but it was suggested—begging pardon of the lawyers—that it might have been written by her lawyer.  With all my knowledge of the conspicuous inexactness of newspapers, I still could not see why they should fabricate and collect such a heap of rubbish if they really had any truth underneath to tell.

    The positions of the Advertiser were:

    (1.) All the depositors hitherto were contemptible, “credulous women.”

    (2.) All who did not instantly repudiate the Ladies’ Deposit on the sole strength of the Advertiser’s information were “destitute of moral scruple.”

    But the Advertiser’s sole authority was an anonymous “reporter.”  This deprived its information of legal value.

    The story on its face developed gross inaccuracies and glaring contradictions.  This deprived it of moral value.

    No just judge would shoot a dog on such testimony.

    Here the matter leaves my own modest little potato-patch, which shrinks under such scrutiny, and broadens out into the universe generally.

    For I, at least, felt that it was impossible to decline this “trial by news-paper” with sufficient promptitude and thoroughness.  I did my best, however, and sent my protest to the Advertiser as fast as steam could carry it.  I dealt in no glittering and sounding generalities, but gathered up the contradictory statements and set them side by side, and showed that the one devoured the other.  I made no defense of Mrs. Howe or the Deposit; I said distinctly that I had never seen her and knew nothing about her; that I spoke only of the Advertiser articles of September 30th and October 2d, the only ones I had seen; and that I spoke in self-defense, as one charged with being a credulous woman devoid of moral scruples; and demanding that we should have truth and not falsehood.  I proved by producing the contradictions that it was impossible for women to accept all the Advertiser’s statements; that there was no standard for deciding which to accept, and therefore no possibility of accepting any as final.  I showed that even as a business the Ladies’ Deposit offered no greater profits and threatened no greater disasters than were offered and perpetrated by men without in the least affecting the moral character or mental standing of the men who received the profit and suffered the loss.

    And the Advertiser—instead of saying “I have sinned.  From long habit I am prone to fibbing as the sparks to fly upward.  But in this case there is truth, though held in solution, as I see now that you have mentioned it, by falsehood.  I will at once precipitate the truth, cast away the falsehood, and go and sin no more”—turned upon me, and declared, for substance of doctrine, that I had proved myself a knave and a partner to the fraud!

    And Tray, Blanche, and Sweetheart, and a good many other harmless little dogs, joined in the cry; some pulling a long face and mournful ululations, some with a frankly jubilant bow-wow-wow, but all betraying the same absence of rational speech and articulate thought.

    For no one denied my contradictions.  It was only replied that they were of no account.  They were but “slight discrepancies.”  The principle of newspaper testimony is, “No matter if the witness does bear false witness, so long as he tells the truth.”  The Advertiser gravely affirmed that its conspicuous inexactness was “of no importance, except so far as it bears upon the substantial accuracy and truthfulness of our statements,” and did not in the least perceive that it was thus stating the whole question in an aside.  Everything turned on the credibility of the Advertiser as a witness.  Palpable false witness does not prove the accused innocent, but it never establishes his guilt.  Still less does it establish the guilt of the judge who declines to admit it.  When the Advertiser denounced its victims in the same breath for financial ignorance in believing that the Ladies’ Deposit was a legitimate business institution, and for vulgar credulity in believing that it was an honest charitable institution, it attributed to them a feat of inscrutable logical legerdemain.  When two contradictory assertions are made about the same act, a woman is neither credulous nor knavish for refusing to accept either and demanding further evidence.  To deny this is to be ignorant, insolent, and stupid.  Five thousand persons denying it, five million newspapers repeating the denial, do not make it any the less insolent, ignorant, and stupid.

    But it was my religious critic who gilded the refined gold of fatuity with the solemn reflection that “errors of a like trivial character would overthrow the whole Christian plan of salvation.”

    “Bredren,” said the colored preacher to the pestilent questioner asking who made the fence against which his account of creation had set the first man up to dry,—“Bredren, three more such questions would destroy de whole system of theology!”  Any person who thinks the Christian plan of salvation is strapped on any newspaper’s shoulders may well be left to dry against the same fence.  “Credulous fools!” said the newspapers to the depositors, slapping the money out of their hands at one blow, “renounce the devil and all his works, of which Mrs. Howe is chief!”

    “Why—why—why?” gasped the surprised depositors.

    “Because I bid you.”

    “But you have told a great many fibs in your day, and I can see that you are telling some now.  How shall I know that this is not one of them?”

    “Ugh!  Knave!  Hawk!  Avaunt!  You are a pal of thieves!  You have no moral scruples!  You have got your money!  What ails you?  Begone!”  Exit female depositors. Gentlemen of the press join hands and sing in concert:—

“I thank the goodness and the grace
    That on my birth have smiled,
And made me from my earliest days
    A male and Christian child!”

Chorus of their male relatives:

“Oh! thank the goodness, for
    He might have been a woman
    Unscrupulous, inhuman,
Or even a de-pos-i-tor!”

    Providence, which sometimes interposes even for women, did not leave them without a witness against this newspaper blizzard.

    While outraged Boston was piling bales of bail upon her frightful female, the “gigantic conspirator” of the newspapers, the “crazy old fool” of the lawyers, an elegant gentleman was running away with some ninety thousand dollars of the city’s money dropping out of his pockets.  The finances of the city of Boston were not managed by female school-teachers, nor by women of any degree, but by men.  A man was specially appointed to treasure the funds, and a committee of men were specially appointed to watch the treasurer.  This committee, say the aldermen, were not only men, but men distinguished as merchants, as bankers, as accountants; different men each year, and of the best men to be found in Boston.  Every year these men examined the accounts of the treasurer, and every year the treasurer examined the accounts of Mr. Woodward; and every year the treasurer assured Mr. Woodward that the accounts were right, and every year the committee assured the treasurer and the city council and the Boston citizens that the accounts were right; and all the while for five years, under the very eyes of these wise watchmen, Mr. Woodward was helping himself to the city’s money whenever he pleased, and escaping detection by the simple device of shifting the remaining money from one hand to the other, and so showing a full fist to the inspectors each time.  But I listen in vain for a voice from State House Hill denouncing the credulity of men, and proclaiming their unfitness for financial or political trust.

    Depositors had no more reason to know Mrs. Howe outside of the Deposit than Mr. Dennie and the committee had to know Mr. Woodward outside of the City Hall.  The one letter of Mrs. Howe’s which I saw—printed after the charges were made—was, I have admitted, not reassuring.  But it does not compare unfavorably with the letters of Mrs. Amy Woodward.  Women may have been deceived by a crazy old fool, but there is just as strong evidence that Mr. Woodward and Mr. Dennie and the treasury committee were beguiled by a crazy young fool.  Officially, Mrs. Howe had paid every dollar promised just as promptly as Mr. Woodward had presented his accounts, and presumably for as long a period.  Mr. Dennie and the committee did not discover Mr. Woodward’s misdemeanor till the money disappeared, but Mrs. Howe’s money did not disappear at all.  The depositors had no defalcation to account for.  Mrs. Howe was paying every dollar due, fully and promptly, up to the very last minute when the astute Boston businessmen pounced upon her with a sheriff, so vigorously and rigorously that Mr. Woodward slipped away from them, money and all.  Therefore, the female school-teachers have displayed no more credulity than the Boston bankers.  And the female school-teachers and other depositors were acting each on her own account, risking only her own money.  They were under no obligations to any one to supervise Mrs. Howe.  But the treasurer and committee were especially appointed to care for a trust fund, for other people’s money.  In the act of the women, therefore, there is no element of immorality, while in the oversight of the Boston committee there is the element of a breach of trust.  But I have seen no attempt on the part of the Boston press to disfranchise, demoralize, and degrade the merchants and bankers of Boston; nor has the Rev. T. W. Higginson published in the Commercial Bulletin an article to show State Street that a committee of financial inspection should not allow accountants to present their accounts on the principle of the old nursery trick,—

“Two little blackbirds sitting on a hill,
One named Jack, one named Gill:
Fly away, Jack, fly away, Gill;
Come again, Jack, come again, Gill.”

    After the detection of Mr. Woodward and the apprehension of Mrs. Woodward, Sumner Albee, Esq., permitted himself to be retained in their defense.  Why should not Mr. Albee be instantly expelled from Prospect Street Church for defending theft, conspiracy, profaneness, and the variety theatre?  He is in precisely the attitude of those women who, after the charges against Mrs. Howe had been published, refused to condemn her on the strength of anonymous newspaper reports and contradictory assertions, and demanded, not that fraud should be justified, but that fraud should be proved before it should be punished.  Neither Mrs. Howe, nor Mr. Woodward, nor any other creature of the world, the flesh, or the devil, has done anything to forfeit his right to the truth.  Legal investigation is not a mere arbitrary fashion.  It is the formulation of what time and trial have shown to be the most real investigation.  The forms of law are not imperative because they are legal.  They are legal because they are imperative.  Evidence is not sifted because courts of justice require it.  Courts of justice require it because only by sifting evidence can truth and justice be secured.

    Now let us take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example.  The Advertiser stoutly maintained that no woman could achieve such a “gigantic conspiracy,” and that behind the offending woman there must be a gang of offending men, and on October 18th, in brief but significant summary, called attention to the fact that itself had caught and caged the woman, and prudently exhorted the police to go for the men!  It bade the conscious blood to the policemen’s cheek, if the policeman’s cheek had not forgotten how to blush,—though nothing less than the Advertiser’s extraordinary mental confusion would ever bring a blush and a policeman together,—and it was ashamed to think of the contempt which would rage in the breast of the Paris detectives when they heard the story!

    Let the heathen rage and the policemen blush; what I wish to ascertain is why women, hundreds of miles away in the country, are required to know more about Boston notions than the Bostonians themselves?  The Advertiser says that the Ladies’ Deposit has been going on “for several years,—three by the lowest estimate.  The police have either been as blind as bats, or they have known of its existence for the past two years.”  Yet the Advertiser declares that the police have done literally nothing towards detecting or arresting it.  “When they were approached they said they had looked into it, and its managers were all right, all right!”  So, then, this “gigantic conspiracy” could flourish three years in the heart of Boston, under the very eyes of the police and the antennae of the newspapers, without menacing an iota of man’s intelligence, or honesty, or capacity for self-government; but the moment it struck a woman she must see through it completely, or instantly forfeit sense and suffrage.  Women do not make the laws which protect property and detect fraud.  Men make the laws.  I beg to know if the fact that an institution has existed for three years, as the Advertiser says, “in no sense private,” openly in the face of Boston, under the full inspection of the whole costly detective force which is organized to distinguish between the legal and the illegal, and has been pronounced by them all right,—I beg to know if that is not a fact on which women have a right to rely as affording at least presumptive evidence of legitimacy.  If three weeks were enough to break up the Deposit and imprison its managers, who were most immoral and credulous,—the women of the suburbs who thought it might be a charity, or the men of the city who knew it must be a cheat, yet let it go on unmolested for three years?

    And what of the newspapers?  The Advertiser boasts that in three weeks it brought the fraud practically to an end.  But why did it wait three years before beginning?  It says, “The business was not only covered all over with the marks of its fraudulent purpose, but it was an open, palpable, certain, self-evident swindle,” and at any time when the work was properly taken hold of, “in a few days thereafter the Ladies’ Deposit would have fallen to pieces.”  How, then, can the Advertiser avoid being accessory to all the guilt incurred and all the disaster caused by the institution during all these years?  It knew the guilt and the swindle, yet let women go on depositing their poor little hardly-gained capital for three years without opening its mouth.  In one week from the time I first heard of the Deposit I had my finger on its pulse!

    Will the Advertiser claim that it did not know of the Ladies’ Deposit?  It says, “The affair was in no sense private; it was, and bore from the start the marks of being, a gigantic conspiracy.”  Can a gigantic conspiracy go on in public three years, and an enterprising newspaper in the same city know nothing about it, or an honest newspaper say nothing about it, or a decent newspaper turn about and trample upon country women for not having known all about it in the beginning, or for not turning a corner at the end as fast as a man?

    Further than this, it now appears that as long ago as the preceding January the Boston Herald made an exposé of this affair which the Advertiser calls “the largest piece of knavery which has ever been perpetrated in Boston.”  This enormous knavery the Advertiser boasts of having demolished in three weeks, but what was the Advertiser doing all these nine months after attention was publicly called to it?  Was not the very fact that attention was publicly directed to it without effect a strong indication of its solidity?  Did not the Advertiser by its silence become part and parcel of a conspiracy to allure the unwary?  Did they not set a trap for women to fall into?  Or if it has taken the Advertiser, on the spot, and with all detective appliances, nine months to lay the wires in order to secure the rogues, why does it argue intellectual fatuity in women that they did not detect roguery at once?

    The Boston newspapers said,—I will quote but one, the sentiment was common,—“Who are the fools [of the Ladies’ Deposit]?  Quite a large proportion of them were school-teachers. . . . Probably only a small portion of them were actually deceived, . . . there was . . . knavery in their folly.”  Here, then, is a gigantic conspiracy in which a large proportion of the conspirators are school-teachers.  Have these school-teachers been dismissed from their schools?  Has a single one of them been dismissed on account of her connection with the Ladies’ Deposit?  Have the Boston newspapers made any effort to dismiss them?  I have not heard of a case.  I do not believe a school-teacher has been expelled for this offense.  I do not believe the Boston press has attempted to discharge one of these foolish and fraudulent teachers.  It is therefore guilty of the unspeakable crime of permitting without protest the young children, the future citizens of the republic, to be committed to the charge of knaves and fools, and to remain in such charge after the knavery and folly were exposed.  Either the newspaper press has slandered the school-teachers, or it has itself been guilty of a betrayal of trust compared with which any pecuniary knavery and folly sink into insignificance.

    In its eagerness to rival the exploits of the New York Times with the Tweed
robberies, and of the New York Tribune with the Cipher Dispatches, the Boston Advertiser, by strenuous and long-continued exertion, inflated one poor, deaf illiterate old woman into a formidable and gigantic conspirator.  Under the manipulations of the law she was speedily reduced to the more probable proportions of “a crazy old fool.”  But whichever or whatever she may be, there are no laurels on her brow for a man’s
wearing.  The glory and crown of man is not in the discrimination, the justice, the watchful wisdom, revealed in him by the Ladies’ Deposit or by his own.  The argument against woman business, woman teaching, woman suffrage, is not that women are dishonest and imbecile, while men are wise and invincible.  The glory of men and the safety of women is this: that men have wrought so faithfully, and fought so valiantly, and died so heroically, that security is achieved even for the defenseless; that the pink and pet of Boston, The Atlantic, which may not approve me, in the very heart of Boston which does not love me, gives me, in the chivalrous instinct of fair play, room to say my say, even against those whom it does love and approve; that when an army of men combine in a wild, petty, and cowardly folly, I—alone, a coward and a weakling like themselves—can tell them how poor a figure they make just as plainly, promptly, and safely as if I also were an army with banners!

M. A. Dodge.

[The Ladies’ Repository (Cincinnati: Methodist Episcopal Church), vol. 11, issue 5 (May 1873): 336-342]

Following here is a description of the Dachau Bank disaster and its instigator, Adele Spitzeder, as alluded to in the articles above as a precursor of the Boston Ladies Deposit Bank.  The Reverend William Wells, who wrote this article, must have been later dismayed at the Boston affair, since he attributed the operation of the Spitzeder scheme to a Bavarian Catholic tendency to religious superstition.  But even forewarned, as it were, about the Dachau Bank, the strongly Protestant, rationalist, and Progressive citizens of Boston very soon were to fall, in great numbers, for the Ladies Deposit.--JB


    We sit down to the recital of a fairy story which we could wish, for the credit of poor human nature, were such as fairy stories are usually expected to be; namely, a tissue of fiction.  But ours is an o’er-true tale, which we tell with at feeling of contempt and pity.

    There is at present, in various parts of Catholic Europe, a strange tendency to the marvelous, and a willingness to see revived the age of the miraculous.  New wonders are announced as coming direct from the Holy Virgin; and new shrines are springing up in various quarters, to attract the attention and the worship of countless thousands, who flock in endless procession, day and night, to the places reputed to be holy, and effective in curing diseases or absolving sins.

    This mania for the marvelous among the ignorant and bigoted is cultivated and used by the hypocritical Catholic clergy, greatly to their own benefit in the localities of these pilgrimages, which gather up fabulous sums of gold under all sorts of pretenses, and for a thousand enterprises in the interest of the Church.  It is not at all surprising, therefore, that other parties, seeing the wealth of this mine, feel inclined to work it to their own profit, believing themselves quite as well entitled to a share of the earthly
treasures as those who are the usual gainers by religious fanaticism.  And such a person is the modern “Gold-fairy,” whom we now beg leave to introduce to our readers.

    The scene of her miraculous power of making all investments more than double themselves yearly, and thus virtually placing in the hands of her patrons a wand that turns every thing into gold, is laid in the beautiful and artistic city of Munich, the capital of Bavaria, which is surrounded by a rural region having the reputation of containing the most intensely and blindly Catholic population of the world.

    The heroine is an actress of very moderate talent and success in her calling, who had taken to the stage more because she was born in that circle than from any peculiar taste or genius in that direction.  After a few quite unprofitable years in traveling about the provinces, pursuing her profession, Adele Spitzeder returns to Munich, where her father belonged, with more debts than assets a great deal, and with little left to encourage her but a peculiarly inventive spirit.  She had lived most of her life on borrowed treasure, and tasted the sweets which gold can bring; and would be perfectly happy in the failure of her artistic career, if this could open up to her a new field for her inventive genius.

    But a prime necessity was money, from some source; and, as she had frequently done before in other places, when under a stress of weather, so now, in the city where generous souls seem to abound, she inserted in the principal journal an announcement that she desired a certain amount of capital for a very profitable enterprise, for which she would give good security, and pay a large interest.

    Some good-natured people, desirous of doing well with their means, called on the lady, and fell a victim to her smooth tongue rather than to her necessities, and were thus led into the folly of granting her a loan, for which she paid in advance a high interest—these simpletons not perceiving that they were receiving back merely a portion of their own deposit.  One fool followed another, and then a third, and a fourth; and if any one of these desired a return of his loan, it was quickly repaid with the money of his successor.

    This prompt reimbursement of course induced him to reinvest, with another advance of interest; and thus matters truly went on merry as a marriage-bell.

    Nobody wanted his money as long as it was doing him such good service in the hands of this enterprising lady.  And as honey catches more flies than vinegar, so the enormous per cent offered by her, in comparison with the sorry five per cent of the banks, caused her business rapidly to grow and flourish.  She commenced operations about four years ago, as poor as the meanest peasant who was afterward ready to kneel to her.  Her office was in the fourth story of a narrow house, and was reached by a dark and wearisome stair-way.  Her first customer is said to have been a Jew; and her business was soon bruited to the covetous world by those who exhibited the fat per cent which she awarded them.  In the commencement of her career, she was very careful and judicious with her funds, which she placed in real estate, so that one house after another fell into her hands.  At last she chose a site in the most frequented and beautiful thoroughfare of the city; and the houses on either side became hers as if by magic.  Opposite to her counting-house, she erected a hotel, that the peasants might have a retreat while waiting for their turn, and run a good chance of being in the right mood for business.

    This was the foundation, to which she daily needed more accessions.  She established a sort of little court; and the gay birds that follow in the wake of success gathered around her.  Impecunious literary adventurers were ready to write her into fame, needy newspapers to publish for a good reward, and lawyers in abundance to advise.  Her door was guarded by a stately footman, and swarms of servants filled her mansion; and her business apartments were quite as full of assistants.

    The curious reader will demand, of course, the secret of her success, and wherein she was a gold-fairy; and this is our reply:  As our late war created with us a reckless spirit of speculation, and gave rise to shoddydom, so, in Germany, everything and everybody was seized with an inordinate thirst of gain and show.  Speculation and peculation became the order of the day, bogus companies were formed to carry on all sorts of business, and the prices of nearly all the ordinary commodities of life were greatly enhanced.  The noble and the commoner flocked to the capital, and a mania seized the poorest artisan to be in the city.  Under this impulse, prices rose, and money became of much greater value than formerly, so that the ordinary per centage would pay no man for its use.  Under this pressure, the usury laws were abolished, and the trade in money, as in many other things, was, for the first time, declared free.  The people had become accustomed to heavy interest during the war, and fanatical theorists were ready to affirm that the use of money was worth fabulous prices.  Twelve per cent had been paid on short loans; and many had taken it who, a few months before, would have shrunk from the transaction.

    The soil was thus ready for weeds; and the appearance of the actress came just in the nick of time.  The Jews had always been the moneylenders.  It was a novelty to see a Christian woman in the trade; and the fact was thought to be a good augury.  Her rates, exorbitant at first, became preposterous with her success.  As the more prudent ones felt confident that she could not thus sustain her business, and withdrew, she replied by increased offers.  Her fame spread among the poor of the city, and from these to the peasantry of all the surrounding country, till at last the poorer classes became almost her only patrons.  She finally offered, and paid, the absurd rate of ten per cent a month, and one-fourth of this in advance.  A hundred dollars deposited for a year would bring thirty back immediately, as interest, thirty more in three months, etc.
It would seem that such recklessness must soon come to grief; but not so long as the fools kept on depositing; and this allurement induced them to give back immediately the interest money which they received, that it might also be performing such miracles.  The result was, that the stream was always running in one direction, and that her coffers were ever full.  The very beggars found their account in patronizing her, for she was generous from policy; and a poor sister actress, to whose tale of suffering she lent all ear, and to whom she gave a generous sum, deposited it immediately in her bank, and used the interest, granted in advance, for her immediate needs, knowing that in three months she could obtain from the bank as much more.

    But it was now becoming clear to the least intelligent that this must be an immense swindle which, before long, would burst like a bubble, and scatter misery and suffering broadcast.  The woman might keep up her luxurious career a few years at most, and finally escape with a fortune that would secure to her a life of luxury and ease; but the end, so far as her victims were concerned, could not be far off.  The mutterings of the public and a few of the newspapers, in this sense, were beginning to have their influence, and to shake confidence, when the player began to see that she must enlist new agents, if she would longer continue her successful career.

    As the city became suspicious of her, the country began to acquire more confidence, and she knew that she must henceforth depend on the ignorance and gullibility of the peasantry.

    To secure these patrons, she was well aware that the priests and affectation of religious fervor were necessary agents.  She founded a newspaper in her own interests, and subsidized two of the most intensely Catholic sheets in the city.  These immediately began to cast incense in the path of the “good fairy,” of the “Mother of the Poor,” etc.; and, by her cunning, in giving largely to the Church enterprises, founding convents, building churches, establishing asylums, she succeeded in gaining the most bigoted portion of the clergy, who have the peasants in their control.  She kept her business chaplains, whose duty it was to spread the fame of her piety.  She herself became a pious devotee, visited the shrines, and exhibited herself to the people in all public places, wearing a heavy golden cross set with brilliants, and adorning every room in her house with a crucifix.  In short, she made so successful and brilliant a display of her piety, that she conquered all prejudices, and began her career anew, among the poor of city and country, as the “Modern Gold-fairy,” which we make the title of our story.

    The Ultramontane sheets that came to her support assured their readers that this opposition to her arose from the Jews, who found their business of money-lending slipping from their hands, and this appeal to the prejudices of the masses was very effectual.  The ordinary bankers even fell under this ban; so that, for a while, every murmur was silenced by the cry of “the Jews! the Jews!” reminding one of the watchword of the Middle Ages, when the poor Israelites were hunted down like dogs.
Indeed, the prejudice at one time ran so high, that the authorities feared local disturbances in the form of outbreaks against the Jews; and then they began to utter their warnings as to these wild doings, calling the attention of the people to the fact that this crazy career of the Gold-fairy could not be solid, and could not but end in great disaster to all concerned.   But the Ultramontanes immediately proclaimed that this was now becoming a political persecution on the part of the Liberals and Nationals, or those in favor of the German Empire, in opposition to the conservative Catholics, who desire to keep Bavaria an entirely independent State.  This appeal to tile so-called “Patriots,” who felt it their duty to cherish local interests, had its effect, and it was clear that the swindle was not yet ripe enough to be rotten.

    So off we start again for the very wildest vortex of this strange event.  The love of money, and the desire of living without the traditional sweat on the brow, make people mad, and one fool bears a tenfold harvest.  The poorer classes were fairly infected by this mania.

    The servants brought their savings, the petty officials their pilferings, the widows their pensions, and the artisans what little they could scrimp from their scanty wages.  And, when the city was exhausted, the malady extended to the country; and this feigned piety, and the endorsement of the priests, enticed the peasantry into the net of the Gold-fairy.  First, they drew out all the old stockings from drawers and cupboards, which for years had contained their secreted wealth; then they unearthed all the old pots filled with silver or gold pieces, and buried in stables, cellars, or gardens; and, finally, they even attacked their wardrobe so sacred for ages.  The gala-dresses of men and women are frequently ornamented with gold or silver coin, in lieu of buttons; these were ruthlessly cut off to find their way to the Gold-fairy, and the coin necklaces and girdle ornaments of the maidens and matrons wandered into the same channel.

    When savings and ornaments were all exhausted, the cry was still for more.  Then furniture was pawned or sold; harvests, house, and lands were sold or mortgaged; orphans’ and widows’ trusts were hypothecated, that every thing might find its way into the remorseless chasm of this magic bank.  It is said that the public credit of whole provinces was in this way greatly endangered.  But the people felt such confidence in the shrine at which they worshiped, that they were willing to make every sacrifice, confident that a few years of interest at over one hundred per cent annually would repay them for all self-denial, and raise them above want for life.  The pestiferous moral influence of these hopes soon became apparent.

    Many of the depositors were seduced into an extravagant mode of life in reliance on their increased income; the laborers bore their toil less willingly, and, where possible, would remit their labor; the lower class of civil officers, who are very poorly paid in Bavaria, became more accessible to bribery, and yielded to the enticement of corruption, while the insolence and idleness of servants, who felt that a few hundred dollars invested would give them an ample income, become the bane of the household.  In short, the business and social relations of all Munich and the surrounding country were seriously interfered with by the wiles of the Gold-fairy.

    And the lady herself was always on the watch for some new source of excitement.  When the religious element seemed for a moment to wane, she never failed of a resource.  She entered the social field, and exerted her magic powers there.  She would buy a great tenement-house filled with the poor, and then call her new tenants together to inform them that they had hitherto been paying an exorbitant rent, which she would then and there greatly reduce.  These poor people wanted, of course, no other god than the Gold-fairy, and this new intoxication, fed by the daily notices of the clerical journals which had espoused her cause, brought a still greater stream of people and peasants from far and near, bearing money-bags, which they besought her to accept, that they also might have a chance in this grand scheme of turning every thing into gold.

    And, again, she established “People’s Kitchens,” where thousands could daily eat, for almost nothing, at the generous tables of the “Mother of the Poor.”  These deluded simpletons could not see what expensive meals most of them were eating; but the few who still recollected that twice five make ten, began to count the expense of all this, and its inevitable result, and again they raised the feeble cry.  The commissioners of the city poor raised their voices, the Government began to utter warnings, and the honest papers to speak in still louder tones about this huge swindle.  But the clerical sheets still defended their protégée, and those founded or sustained largely by her money came up with renewed strength to the battle.  The question began to be gravely discussed as to what she did with all her treasure; for it was estimated that she had received some ten millions of florins on deposit, and no one could see where a tithe of this money had been disposed of.  Of course, large sums had been paid in interest, but very much of this had immediately been returned on deposit.  Then she had paid large sums for percentage to a swarm of agents, who, in various parts of the country, acted as whippers-in.  But, with all these allowances, she could show no satisfactory columns to those who began to feel it time to stop and inquire.  The more thoughtful ones began to see the coming crash, and resolved to get from under the tottering edifice, if possible.  They began to withdraw their funds, and demand the liquidation of notes overdue, which in confidence they had scarcely examined.  This unexpected call was followed by a little delay in payment of several notes, and thus a means was afforded for the judicial officers to step in with protest, and examine her affairs.

    And, alas, what a state of things they found!  Account-books that would disgrace an ignorant washer-woman, and every thing in the most sublime confusion.  For millions, not the least satisfactory account; as the coin had been brought in bags and boxes, and had been poured into a great wooden gutter leading from the countingroom to the cellar, where it lay in huge piles, exposed to the thieving of all who could gain access to the building; and thus millions had perhaps been stolen, other millions given to the priests, or squandered in some incomprehensible way, while not a little had been used in personal extravagance for herself and friends.

    The charm was thus quickly broken; the bubble burst, the gold all disappeared, and the Gold-fairy suddenly became a witch.

    While the police were arresting her for fraudulent bankruptcy, and examining the premises to get the leavings of this carnival of swindle, a surging crowd of unfortunates filled the space around her palace and all the approaching avenues.  Such an assemblage of ruined men, women, and children has not often been seen in the world’s history.  Tears and sighs and groans, deep oaths and imprecations, desperate gestures and forlorn faces, hands now clasped in horror, now wrung in despair, and now pressed to burning brains,—these were the scenic denouements of this fearful diarama that had run through all stages of farce and comedy, and was now ending in this dread tragedy.  Thousands of families were ruined; many of the peasants were houseless, homeless, landless; widows and orphans were reduced to beggary, and widespread misery was cast over the whole community in the midst of the most inclement season.  The event became almost a national calamity, and the city was obliged to take prompt measures to relieve the greatly increased number of the poor and needy; an extra poor-tax was ordered for that purpose.

    Now that the crash has come, all parties are blaming each other for it, and laying at their neighbors’ doors the grave responsibility of the disgraceful event.  The Government gave its warnings, but tardily and weakly; and hesitated to interfere until it was too late to do any good.  Some of the Catholic authorities and organs also raised their voices in condemnation of the famous and now infamous bank, but they permitted themselves to be silenced by the arrogance of the Ultramontane organs and priests who had a finger in the pie and were tasting of its sweets.  These alone are the criminally responsible parties, and some of the prominent individuals are now openly named who are to suffer for this outrage on a confiding public.

    In her very last hours, Adele Spitzeder found at her side the editor of the Jesuitical organ of Munich, and one of the most famous of the Ultramontane delegates to the Bavarian Parliament.  If Bavarian peasants know enough to see, in popular parlance, a hole through a ladder, they must perceive how completely they have been victimized, and how colossal is the load of blame to be piled on their leaders, who have thus proved to be veritable wolves in sheep’s clothing.  If this does not remove the thick veil from their eyes, and give them a little insight into the motives of these Jesuitical hordes, nothing will; and the Liberals of Bavaria confidently expect that, as the peasantry has lost its money, so it will certainly lose a portion of its faith in priests and their pulpits and their printed organs.  The ultra-Romish clergy have been riding of late so high a horse in Munich, that this occurrence may be providential in dismounting them for a time, if not permanently.

    But they knew what must be the end of this, and that end could not have come quite unexpected; perhaps before their plans were fully matured for the bursting of the bubble of infatuation which has spread sorrow and anxiety abroad like a pest-bearing plague.  The arrogant leaders of the party are now receiving the result with a marvelous stoicism, and with accustomed coolness are throwing the responsibility of it on other shoulders; but their guilt is so patent that the wordiest demagogues can not hide it.  The verdict of the people is, that these saintly swindlers and priestly jugglers and confidence men must receive their reward; for the calamity is one that can not soon be forgotten, and its financial effects will be felt in the Bavarian capital and a portion of the provinces for ten years at least.

    From this event the Bavarians have at least learned the lesson that the Ultramontanes are ready to push any question into the political arena, where they know that they can obtain support on purely partisan grounds, with but little question as to the intimate nature of the cause.  The woman and the friends that she had gathered around her found nothing more convenient than to buy the influence which would avail them so much, and both parties were pleased with the compact, and found their account therein.

    Priestly agents were soon busy enticing willing victims into the golden net, by relating the visible blessing of God that rested on. all that the “pious maiden” did, and of the Christian kindness and humility with which she everywhere bore the sign of the cross.  She, in her turn, was as ready to play into their hands, and make sacred to the Church a trade which had hitherto been desecrated by unbelieving Jews.  And then the credulous peasant read all this in his newspaper, and with a “God wills it” in his heart, and the prospect of high interest in his head, he lays impious hands on the heirlooms of his family, and makes himself and his blood paupers and wanderers.

    No better field could have been chosen for this unique swindle than the southern provinces of Bavaria; for in these education and intelligence are at the lowest ebb in Germany, and it is quite enough to tell them that the intention of the German Government is to make them all “Lutheran” to excite their deepest ire.  The most fanatical paper published in all the German realm finds its largest circulation among them, and they are the coarsest and most turbulent of their class.  They are said to carry the dagger and the rosary in the same pocket, and seldom to let a pilgrimage pass without a battle among themselves, or a religious festival without a murder.  The thief and the robber promise the “Virgin” a portion of their spoils for the Church if she will grant success to their proposed crime, and the assassin hastens from his victim to the dance.  But, with all their depravity, they listen to their priest; and while he declaims to them against Free-masons, Jews and heathen, Protestants and radicals, listen with pleasure to his story of the angel in human form, whose touch can change every thing into gold.

    We need hardly state that the Gold-fairy is still the staple of discussion in all circles, from different stand-points, and will long continue to be the theme of Winter evenings.  The curious would fain know what has become of her money beyond the comparatively little that now is found.  She bought at first costly villas and miserable houses, that paid no interest on her investment; then she acquired an incredible amount of jewelry and dress of a kind to make a sort of pious display on her visits to rural shrines, which sometimes seemed like huge caravans.  Her favorites received the richest presents; and, as these confidants were frequently changed, she was always surfeiting a new swarm.  In the privacy of her palace, it is affirmed that she held frequent orgies, attended largely by her priestly retinue, who discovered the largest capacity for costly food and the rarest wines.

    She found a rich mine of expense in the pilgrimages which she undertook with a view to spread her fame for piety among the peasantry.  In costly coaches and with richly caparisoned steeds, she and her train would drive to the precincts of some shrine, and soon attract the attention of all in the little town.  Just at the close of the last season, in a little watering place and shrine of Southern Bavaria, she appeared with a company of gentlemen and ladies, who were, at first, taken for a band of players.  It was soon discovered that the focus of this party was a lady, who was evidently treated with very marked deference.  She was tall and thin, of masculine features, and, in all her movements, angular and unrefined.  Her hair was cut short in the back of her neck, and over a violet traveling-dress dangled a large golden cross, set with diamonds, to a heavy golden chain.

    It was soon surmised that the new visitor, in state and with retinue, was the Gold-fairy; and with the speed of the wind the story of her arrival spread.  The streets were quickly filled with the curious, and the farce laid down in the programme had a numerous audience.  The hotel chosen by the adventurers was not that usually patronized by strangers and best adapted to the wants of such a party; but rather the one where the peasants of the region are commonly found over their beer.  This was chosen for the effect that it would produce, and for the popularity which the party was seeking.
Preparations were made in the greatest hurry for the distinguished guests; and the dancing-hall was quickly decorated with flowers, and the tables covered with all the delicacies that the moment and the place could afford.

    While the entertainment was being prepared, the queen of the party condescended to walk through the village, preceding her train of attendants some three paces, who, in turn, were followed by the footmen, in gorgeous livery.

    It was Sunday—the day when the population, for miles around, is usually in the village—and the country people crowded up to her in masses.  To some she offered her hand, and to others she said a few words of affected familiarity or studied coarseness.  She knew how to produce an effect on her audience; and the peasants whispered knowingly to one another, “She understands it.”

    Near the end of the village stood the little shrine.  With affected haste, she entered and threw herself on her knees before the altar, burying her head in her hands; and thus she lay some five minutes.  The curious peasants gaped through the half-opened door and the low windows; they thought it wonderful that one so rich could be so devout.  The lady’s trick was a perfect success with these rustics, as it had many times been with others.  In the mean time a generous meal was prepared at the inn, and in a few hours, more bottles of champagne were emptied than had been consumed by other parties there during the entire Summer; for every one that came into the house was invited freely to drink, and the Bavarian peasants see such opportunities too seldom to let them pass unimproved.

    With the twilight, the distinguished company left the village, with the proud consciousness that the game would well pay this little outlay.  And as the Gold-fairy disappeared from view, the silly people thought and said, “So rich and yet so good!”  And then directed their own steps to their household gods and the scenes of rural tranquility, determined on the morrow to invest in this newly found mine of gold.

    That evening the notables of the village gathered more numerously than usual in the inn over their accustomed beer, to discuss the rare event of the day; but it was soon discovered that an incredulous crowd had now assembled, who took but little stock in this miraculous enterprise.  The lady’s career was pretty nearly run, and the radical papers began to talk quite decidedly about the event that had kept the community in excitement so long.  An irreverent official from Munich declared that, as student, he knew all about the lady, and had witnessed her first painful efforts at declamation in social circles, in the capital, and voted her a failure from the beginning, although both her parents were persons of rare talent in their line.  They soon discovered the lack of this, and tried to persuade their daughter from taking to the stage; for she was even deficient in those personal charms which are so necessary to success in this precarious career.  She, however, was determined to try her fortune in mimic life; and when the narrator was a student in Zurich, the lady was doing tragedy on the boards of that famous town.  This was in 1865, and her failure there about closed her career; for she proved to possess more skill in making debts than theatrical successes; and so one night, somewhere between twilight and dawn, she disappeared, leaving no other traces behind than those contained in an indebtedness of some twelve hundred francs.
She greatly improved on that in a few years, raising her obligations to as many millions in the larger field afterward chosen.  Even the servant-girl of the inn had her marvelous story to tell of the advantages to be gained in waiting on Adele Spitzeder.  Her aunt was cook to the great lady, who paid her twenty florins a month, and whose guests never left the festive board of her house without leaving behind a present of ten florins apiece for the one who had prepared the dainty dishes they had enjoyed.  And even the waiting-maid was treated in princely style; for, by agreement, all the money found in her pockets on disrobing was to go to her attendant, who thus never obtained less than twenty florins every night.

    The village judge told his experience of a late pilgrimage to a famous shrine, where the Gold-fairy was the observed of all observers, and the devoutest of the devotees; expressing his disgust at the manner in which the priests made common cause with the stupid crowd in doing her reverence, wondering at her piety, and praising her liberality to Churchly needs.  Then he drew from his pocket a copy of the Bavarian Fatherland, the most bitterly bigoted of the Jesuitical journals of the country, and read therein the fulsome praises of this unprincipled adventuress, even to the pious proverbs displayed in monstrous letters on the walls of her bank:  “Do right, and fear no one,” “Always practice truth and honesty,” and many of this same stripe.

    The village banker told his story with frowning mien; for of late not a dollar of the peasants’ money came into his hands, and nearly all they had was being drawn from his drawers to enrich the bank of the fairy.  He declared her to be a witch in her influence over the peasants; and counted in his province no less than three hundred and fifty who were depositors with her, and ended his story with the sad and painful exclamation, “How long, O how long!”

    “Not long,” replied his comrades; “for this villainous bubble must soon burst, and woe betide those who get under the avalanche of ruin!”  And not long it was; for this was the late Autumn, and in a month, with the falling snow and pinching cold, came the terrible account of the crash which made the Winter so much more pitiless for thousands of poor deceived wretches.

Professor William Wells

And more background about Adele Spitzeder:

A New York Girl’s Career.
The Most Successful Adventuress of the Age—From Concert Saloon to the Presidency of a German Bank—The Story of Anna Spitzeder, the Female Usurer of Munich.

[From a New York Paper.]

     About eight years ago the habitues of the Continental Concert Saloon, on Chatham Square, in this city, were particularly attracted by the pretty face and winsome manners of one of the waiter girls who called herself Annie Spitzeder, and who spoke both English and German fluently, and who displayed so much business capacity in “beating” the customers of the place out of money by selling them worthless cider at five dollars a bottle, and causing them to treat ad infinitum, that the proprietor of the saloon gladly paid her double wages, and was not a little chagrined when one afternoon, at the usual hour, Annie did not make her appearance.  All inquiries about her at the cheap boarding-house on Christie street, where she lived in a humble room, led to no information other than she had left the place at an early hour in the morning with a young man, dressed in a suit of gray, with whom she had said she was going to Philadelphia.  Since that time nothing further was heard of her, until the other day it became known that the former New York concert saloon girl was living in affluence at Munich, in Germany; that, strange to say, through her extraordinary business capacity, she had become the proprietress of the so-called Volksbank (People’s Bank) that Adele Spitzeder (that is her name) had become a household word among the poor of her city; that she had established for the benefit of the latter a dozen cheap souphouses in various parts of the place; and, finally, even started a popular daily paper, entitled the People’s Gazette, which is advocating extreme Democratic principles, and which has already attained a circulation of upward of 15,000 copies.  It is true, some of the Munich papers have called her a magnificent confidence woman, and cautioned the depositors of Mlle. Adele Spitzeder’s bank against intrusting their money to her; but by threats of libel suits she has succeeded in silencing them all, and she now pursues her business undisturbedly, to the utmost wonder of all who have known some of her antecedents.

    This extraordinary woman has indeed led a most eventful life since she disappeared from New York.  It was in October, 1865 at two o’clock in the morning, when she wended her way from the concert saloon to her boarding house, that she was accosted on the Bowery by a young man in gray, who made certain proposals to her.  She rejected them firmly; but, struck by her very pretty face and lady-like demeanor, he persisted until she finally told him that she would meet him at an early hour on the following morning at a confectionary on Broome street.

    The interview was held, and the young man, who said that his name was Van Dusen, that he had been an officer in the Rebel Navy, and that his folks lived in Lynchburg, Virginia, became so enamored of the girl that he proposed to take her with him on a six months’ trip to the Old World.  He satisfied her that he had plenty of money, and, after considerable hesitation and much coaxing on his part, she consented to go with him; and on the following day they sailed in the steamship Pereire for Brest.  Van Dusen’s conduct toward her was unexceptionable; but Annie, with a woman’s keen perception, was not long in discovering that her lover was of fierce disposition, and subject to choleric fits.  She concluded that it would be best for her to get rid of him as soon as possible, and, with an eye to business, she managed adroitly to obtain from him the sum of 25 hundred francs in gold as a proof, as she said, that he did not intend to send her adrift in a foreign country.

    They arrived in due time at Brest, and proceeded from thence to Paris, where for two or three weeks they reveled in all the amusements in which the French capital abounds.  At the end of that time Annie Spitzeder found herself in possession of a splendid wardrobe, an elegant watch, some valuable jewelry, and nearly three thousand francs in cash.  She thought it was about time for her to “shake” Mr. Van Dusen, the more so as he had repeatedly beaten and abused her when under the influence of liquor.  So she wrote him a note, in which she told him she could no longer live with a man that could treat her so brutally, and with her four trunks left Paris for Strasburg.  It had always been her desire to visit Germany, her native country, and so she went in the first place to Baden-Baden, which has always been a rich field for the confidence women and adventuresses of all countries.  Alighting at the Hotel de Hollande, she was not long in forming such acquaintances as she was in quest of.  A Russian nobleman of considerable wealth was her first admirer, and with him she visited the various German watering places in the course of the next few months, always taking care to add to her funds from the always open purse of her lover.

    At Ems, in June 1866, the two parted—Annie Spitzeder believing that the time had come for her to carry into execution a peculiar scheme which she had conceived for making a fortune, and which, thus far, has proved successful beyond expectation.  It was to lend her money in small sums at fashionable watering-places to aristocratic men who had lost everything at the gambling tables, at exhorbitant rates of interest, for a few weeks, on undoubted security, couple with the written parole of the borrower.  She tried this game at first at Hamburg, where she assumed the airs of an eccentric American woman, and sat all day long at the rouge-et-noir tables, risking trifling sums, but keenly watching those players who were unlucky and whose aristocratic appearance denoted that they were in good circumstances.  When they left the table with empty pockets she would follow them and offer them assistance.  As a general thing it was only too gladly accepted, and the borrower, after giving Annie an I. O. U. and his watch would return to the gaming table, without caring about it that he had given the fair lender not only his written parole and his watch or diamond ring, but had also promised to return to her in two weeks double the sum he had received from her.
 For three weeks the female usurer carried on this business with eminent success at Hamburg.  About one-half of the borrowers redeemed their I. O. U’s, etc.; but the pledges of the others were of sufficient value to indemnify her, and she, moreover employed a pettifogger to collect the money.  Many of the poor devils sacrificed their watches and rings, and, moreover, paid the full claim, rather than have it known that they had violated their paroles.

    Suddenly an officer of the Hamburg police called upon Mme. Spitzeder, as she now called herself, at the Hotel of the Four Seasons, where she was stopping.  He asked her business, and told her that what she was doing was illegal.  She avoided arrest by bribing the officer, and hurriedly left Hamburg.

    For the next three years she visited every fashionable watering-place in Germany and Belgium, pursuing her business with extraordinary successs.  During the Exhibition of 1867 she was in Paris, where she attracted much attention by the expensive style in which she lived.  Few persons, except those who had dealings with her, suspected that she was simply a merciless usurer.  Already at that time she had accumulated a fortune of thirty or forty thousand francs.

    In 1870, Annie Spitzeder received news that a relative of hers, living at the small town of Statdlingen, in Bavaria, had left her a few thousand florins.  She went in person to collect the money, and, on that occasion, found out that some of her relatives were living at Munich.  She visited them and was sos delighted with the attractions of that beautiful city that she resolved to settle in that beautiful place.  She provided at first with some ostentation for her relatives, who were in needy circumstances, and then opened a loan office in a fashionable house at No. 38 Dachaver street.  She had plenty of customers and made money rapidly.  Finally, she conceived the idea that she might advertise for deposits, and establish a regular bank.  She offered depositors enormous advantages—for large sums of money as much as ten per cent, a month—and, after advertising this in nearly all Bavarian journals, large sums of money, especially from the rural districts, began to pour into her coffers.  The attention of the authorities was called to her doings, but, after some difficulty, she managed to quiet them.  The newspapers attacked her violently, but she threatened to prosecute them, and, the people of Munich being on her side because she paid them so enormous an interest, most of her assailants were reduced to silence; and, besides, she threatened them with libel suits.  She, moreover, established a cheap daily paper to defend her, and it is said to have reached a circulation of upward of fifteen thousand copies.  It is written, set up and printed exclusively by women.  The journals of the remaining German states, however, denounce Mme. Spitzeder in unmeasured terms as a fraud, and predict that her “People’s Bank” will soon have to fail, and that large numbers of poor people will be utterly ruined thereby.

    The female usurer herself still affects to be utterly unconcerned about it.  She says she feels perfectly safe, because she can afford to pay enormous interest to her depositors, and because the people are on her side.  She spends her money lavishly, and recently established twelve soup-houses, where the poor of Munich may obtain nourishing food at merely nominal prices.

The Ohio Democrat (New Philadelphia, Ohio), December 27, 1872.


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