Men Going Their Own Way in 1919

Robert St. Estephe–Gonzo Historian–is dedicated to uncovering the forgotten past of marginalizing men. “Gonzo journalism” is characterized as tending “to favor style over fact to achieve accuracy.” Yet history – especially “social history” – is written by ideologues who distort and bury facts in order to achieve an agenda. “Gonzo” writing is seen as unorthodox and surprising. Yet, in the 21st century subjectivity, distortion and outright lying in non-fiction writing is the norm. Fraud is the new orthodoxy. Consequently, integrity is the new “transgressive.”

Welcome to the disruptive world of facts, the world of Gonzo History.


This is quite an unusually revelatory post. The present-day trend called MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way) is completely expressed in the second article you will see below, a “letter to the editor,” which was written in response to a preceding editorial discussing the common and scandalous phenomenon of male juries’ overwhelming tendency to sympathize with murderesses. What we see in the criminal case in question and the public response to it is the early glimmerings of MGTOW in 1919.

Following the editorial and the letter, in which the particular case under discussion is not named, are news reports on the specific case that inspired these reactions, involving Emma Simpson.

The case is iconic for its encapsulation of so many of the issues of the men’s rights movement: chivalry, female sentencing discount, female privilege, a woman’s “right to kill,” the misuse of psychology in legal defense, predatory use of alimony law, the abuse of the courts for revenge purposes, attention whoring, and infantilizing of women (neglecting to hold them accountable because of their sex).

On top of that the murderess in the case was defended by America’s most famous trial lawyer, Clarence Darrow, whose defense of Mrs. Simpson was a simplified form of that which he deployed in his cynical and perverted sophistry in the notorious trial of the cynical and perverted Leopold and Loeb five years later in 1924.


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 5): The popular and inexpensive American sport, Killing Your Husband, seems to be as popular and probably will continue as inexpensive as ever. The latest case is not yet complete. The husband, at this writing, is still alive, but whichever way it turns out we have no doubt the lady is quite justified in her smiling confidence. Her picture, snapped after the shooting, is a social document which ought to be preserved, but it should be carefully labeled and supported by affidavits or future civilized generations will take it for the portrait of a lady on her way to a wedding.

She waved and smiled at the Tribune staff photographer. “When I go to court for this I will defend myself. I will need no attorney; the new unwritten law, which does not permit a married man to love another woman, will be my defense. I will tell my whole story to the jury and they will free me.”

They probably will. What is the law, what is a human life, to the sloppy sentimentality of the juries which sit in these cases? A long succession of acquittals has given good basis for confidence that any woman can murder her husband if she is not too old or unsightly. Our juries have made killing a minor offense whenever a woman can tell a story of wrongs, whether the wrongs justify the wiping out of a human life or not.

The law establishes in calmness and justice what excuses or justifies the taking of life. But the sexual sentimentality of male juries has made mockery of law and of reasoned justice, so that any woman whose wrongs are real or fancied may try, convict, and execute according to her own notion of right or her own impulses of pride or jealousy.

This is to place woman not in a shrine, but on the plane of irresponsible childhood or idiocy. Juries which ignore their oath to apply the law, and by their inane verdicts encourage the inflamed egotism of women to destroy life, should be made to feel the condemnation of the courts and of their fellow citizens. Killing has got to be the safest of exercises in this community.

[“Killing Husbands” (editorial), Chicago Tribune (Il.), Apr. 28, 1919, p. 8]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 5):

“Voice of the People” (letters to the editor section)


Evansville, Wis., May 26. [Editor of The Tribune]—

The Tribune hit the nail squarely on the head in the masterly editorial “Killing Husbands.” Let us hope that the good work may continue until this mighty evil, sex discrimination in the courts, is abated or eliminated.

The court has never measured up to its responsibility in the matter of domestic relations. For centuries mothers were robbed of their children with as little compunction as when the mother cat is deprived of its kittens [This is inaccurate. Divorces were very rare “for centuries” until the mid 1800s].

Then came a revulsion of feeling and the courts swung around to other extreme and singled the father out as the goat. The man who remains single until he is thirty seldom marries, because by that time he has ceased to be foolhardy and knows from his daily observations that the man who marries and undertakes to maintain a home and rear a family frequently has insurmountable obstacles to overcome.

The hostile attitude of the courts, the busy divorce lawyer, and the meddlesome mother-in-law loom upon the horizon of the man of thirty when he for a moment contemplates matrimony, and he regards approvingly the motto on the wall of the den, “SAFETY FIRST.”

– A. V. Lyle.


FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 5): Hate is a delicate institution. Like an old music box, it may be dormant for several years, and then suddenly jarred, burst into sound –

Mrs. Emma D. Simpson, niece of John M. Roach, traction magnate, will be the next woman Cook county will try for attempted murder – possibly murder. For over three years a jealous hate lay closely guarded in Mrs. Simpson’s heart. The jar came yesterday afternoon – and Mrs. Simpson shot to kill.

Sitting, apparently calm, in the crowded courtroom of Judge David M. Brothers, Mrs. Simpson drew a revolver from the folds of her dress, pointed it at her husband, Elmer E. Simpson, and pulled the trigger six times. When she fired she was in a chair directly across the table from her husband.

It transpired that two of the gun’s chambers were empty. The remaining four were loaded. Two bullets struck Mr. Simpson in the face, one in the shoulder, while the fourth went wild, narrowly missing Gus Wedemeier, clerk of the court.

Mrs. Simpson tossed the revolver on the table and rose. Bailiff August Villwock, rushing from the judge’s chambers, immediately pinned her arms to her side.

~ Hopes He Is Dead. ~

“Now I am vindicated!” cried Mrs. Simpson.

“You’ve killed him!” screamed Miss Bertha Fisher, a court reporter.

“I hope so,” replied Mrs. Simpson quietly as she saw the body of her husband clump and fall to the floor. “He tortured me every minute of the last four years and he deserved it.”

Mrs. Simpson submitted calmly to deputy and was taken to the office of Sheriff Peters. There she refused – on advice of her attorney – to talk.

Shortly afterwards, accompanied by two deputy sheriffs, she started for the county jail. On the way thither – and still entirely composed – she talked freely to a Tribune reporter of her husband.


~ Wife Tells Her Story. ~

“That man has lived by my permission since July 12, 1915,” she said. “On that date I found him in a hotel with Mrs. Jean Webster. Her husband was with me and we had them arrested.

“Since that time he has repeatedly called on this woman.

“Of course I took the gun to court with me, but I didn’t expect to shoot. He said something to me – something nasty, indicative of his whole nature. It made me boil – I couldn’t stand it any longer.”

She waved and smiled at a Tribune staff photographer who snapped her picture as she walked.

“When I go to court for this I will defend myself,” Mrs. Simpson continued. “I will need no attorney – the new unwritten law, which does not permit a married man to love another woman, will be my defense. It will save me.”

“I will tell my whole story to the jury and they will free me. I am perfectly confident of that.”

Mrs. Simpson refused to talk after she entered the jail. But she went to her cell with the matron apparently happy. Mrs. Simpson is 37 years old. Her home is at 1712 North La Salle street. Since their separation her husband has been living with his mother at 136 East Garfield boulevard.

Late last night Dr. J. Whitney Hall worked at the bedside of Simpson to save the man’s life.

“I believe he will die,” said the doctor, who was in the courtroom at the time of shooting and who took Simpson to St. Luke’s hospital.

The events leading up to the attempted murder are taken upon the records of the Circuit court.

Mr. and Mrs. Simpson were married July 4, 1902, and lived together until May 18, 1912, at which time Mrs. Simpson left her husband, a telegraph operator, because “he was associating with other women.” Two years ago a divorce suit was filed in the court by Mrs. Simpson, charging her husband with infidelity and naming Mrs. Jeanne Webster, 5624 Indiana avenue, as correspondent.

~ Did Not Want Divorce. ~

The bill was heard five minutes ago by Judge Brothers. The testimony brought out the fact that Mrs. Simpson and Mrs. Webster’s husband had found Simpson and Mrs. Webster in a hotel together.

Judge Brothers indicated he would grant a divorce – but Mrs. Simpson refused.

“I don’t want my husband free to marry her,” she said, and the case was dismissed.

Last February Mrs. Simpson filed a bill asking separate maintenance and charging her husband with infidelity, naming the same woman. Shortly after the filing of the bill Judge Brothers granted Mrs. Simpson $7.50 a week alimony until the case could be heard.

Yesterday with her attorney she went to court and asked that the alimony be increased.

“Why – this woman makes $200 a month as secretary for J. M. Roach,” said Simpson to the court. “She has ample means of support.”

Mrs. Simpson and her attorney objected. Mrs. Simpson’s objections were loud.

“Madame, you will have to be quiet,” ordered Judge Brothers.

Attorneys continued their arguments and finally Judge Brothers entered an order providing for $9 a week alimony. Then the judge stepped down from the bench into his chambers.

~ Husband Asks Reconciliation. ~

“Emma – let’s go back and be happy again,” said her husband.

“I will not – and when you get anything on me you can get a divorce.

“Why – right now you are – “

The sentence was never finished. Mrs. Simpson pulled her revolver and started shooting.

Several women screamed, one fainted, and Bailiff Villwock, 2824 Southport Avenue, rushed from the jurist’s chambers to grab the revolver.

Immediately after quiet was restored Judge Brothers ascended the bench and held Mrs. Simpson to the grand jury without bond for attempted murder. Judge Brothers has just returned from a vacation forced by heart trouble. The excitement caused a slight relapse and he was ordered home by his physician.

Attorney T. J. Symmes, legal representative for Mrs. Roach, went to the county building and asked of First Deputy H. C. W. Laubenheimer permission to visit Mrs. Simpson in the county jail.

“It is possible that I may represent her at the trial,” the attorney said.

Efforts to talk with Mrs. Webster last night proved futile. She is sister-in-law of Simpson’s brother, Arthur.

“My sister-in-law had nothing to do with breaking up the home,” said Arthur Simpson last night.

Neighbors of Mrs. Simpson described her as a hard working, faithful wife. They asserted she had nursed her husband back to health from tuberculosis.

Miss Bertha Fisher, 18 years old, 2629 Evergreen avenue, a court reporter, stood immediately behind Mrs. Simpson just before the shooting occurred. She said:

“I heard him say that he wanted her to come back and live with him. She replied that is was impossible, and then he started to insult her. He did not finish the sentence. After she had fired the shots she rose coolly and asserted that she was ‘vindicated.’”

Miss Lucille Ver Hoeven, a court reporter told a Tribune reporter last night that Mrs. Simpson had threatened her husband’s life months ago.

[“Taunted Wife Shoots Husband In Courtroom – ‘Hope He’s Dead,’ Says Niece of J. M. Roach.” Chicago Tribune (Il.),  Apr. 26, 1919, p. 1]


NOTE: Elmer Simpson, shot by his wife on April 11, 1919, died May 18.



FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 5): The court room was filled with chatting groups. The audience back of the railing, where the judge, jury and prisoner sit, held their seats impatiently. For the jury was out, deliberating upon the sentence to be passed on a woman who had killed her husband – Mrs. Emma Simpson.

The jury had been out for half an hour, the prosecuting attorney had retired to his chambers, and Attorney Clarence Darrow for the defense gathered up his papers, for it was expected the jury would spend some hours deciding on the verdict.

Just as Mr. Darrow reached the door, however, a knock was heard at the jury room door.

~ “Insanity” Is Verdict. ~

The jury filed in, and the prisoner, who had changed her spotless white costume of the morning for a black velvet dress, was brought back. She stood between two guards to hear her sentence – facing the entire assemblage.

“You have the verdict, gentlemen?” inquired Judge George Kersten. “Let it be read.”

The quiet of the room was oppressive. The prisoner shifted her feet nervously. The verdict was read:

“We, the jury, find the defendant, Emma Simpson, committed the act charged in the indictment, but at the time of the commission of the said act she was a lunatic or insane person, and that she was not permanently recovered from such lunacy or insanity.”

Mrs. Simpson turned to disappear into the jail with her guards.

~ Two Ballots Taken. ~

“It is hard to realize she isn’t coming home,” said her aunt. Mrs. Sweet, “but —-“

A sigh was the finish of her sentence.

Max Leviton, a member of the jury, said a little later: “We had been undecided until this morning as to whether she was insane – but when Mrs. Simpson interrupted the prosecuting attorney twice, we figured a sane person would have acted differently.”

Two ballots were taken, and at one time the jury stood six to six on the question of sanity.

~ Now Faces Asylum. ~

After the trial was over and Mrs. Simpson was back in her cell, from where she probably will be taken to Elgin for treatment, she was asked whether she was satisfied with the verdict. She burst into tears.

“Yes, but that won’t bring my husband back —-”

Her tears ceased abruptly.

“Do you know that before last Monday I had not realized the terrible thing I had done. Relatives and friends told me repeatedly I was going insane – and lately I have known something was wrong.

“I know I would make a bad impression on the jury if I broke down, but I just couldn’t help it when they started to say things about Elmer, because Elmer and I were happy together for a long, long time and I couldn’t hear ill spoken of him.”

And she began to weep. Outside the cell Miss Margaret Leithamin, 17, awaiting trial for murder, was industriously mopping the jail floor.

Mr. Darrow expressed himself as pleased with the verdict even though his client was sent to an asylum. The verdict is taken to mean Mrs. Simpson will be placed in an asylum until such time as she is declared to have recovered. Then application can be made for her release.

~ Pleads Woman’s Cause. ~

In his final plea to the jury Attorney Darrow begged that more consideration should be shown for a woman than a man, and cited the domestic troubles Mrs. Simpson had had for seven years.

“I’m not arguing there was a justification for murder,” said he. “The act in itself was a crazy act. This woman was insane at the time and is insane now.”

And then, to show that a man and a woman must be judged differently: “Women will take a bunch of old love letters, tied with faded ribbon, and relive an early romance; to men an old romance would be dust and ashes, if not forgotten.

“You’ve been asked to treat a man and a woman the same – but you can’t.”

~ Asks for a Conviction. ~

Prosecutor Murphy in his closing plea thundered:

“The state of Illinois asks you, gentlemen, to put an end to killings by these women wild with jealousy. We have shown there is no insanity in this case.”

 “This paragon of virtue in her own mind was always right and her husband Elmer all wrong —- ”

Mrs. Simpson electrified the court by standing and interrupting dramatically: “Mr. Murphy, he was not all wrong – he was all right until that woman Jean Weber got hold of him!”

Bailiffs pulled her back into her seat. Later, when Mr. Murphy was telling that she, the prisoner claimed to be insane, had been earning her own living she cried out: “I did not.”

Mr. Murphy demanded that she be sent to the penitentiary.

[Maude Martin Evers, “Mrs. Simpson Found Insane; Faces-Asylum – Jury Verdict Stirs Husband Slayer to Tears and Smiles.” Chicago Tribune (Il.), Sep. 26, 1919, p. 1]



FULL TEXT (Article 5 of 5): Mrs. Emma D. Simpson, who shot her husband in court last April, was adjudged insane by a jury, September 26, and was thereafter sent to the Elgin State Hospital for the Insane. On Friday she was adjudged sane by a jury of experts and released. “The Elgin city court was packed with a sympathetic crowd,” says the report.

She was fifty-one days at the institution. Her remark on regaining her liberty is significant. “I did not do the right thing—absolutely not,” she said. “I could not have done such a thing had I been in my right mind. But until the last hour of my life I’ll believe my husband wanted to kill me and marry a bad woman.”

After the shooting she buoyantly said to the Tribune staff photographer, “When I go to court for this, I will defend myself. I will need no attorney; the new unwritten law, which does not permit a married man to love another woman, will be my defense. I will tell my whole story to the jury and they will free me.”

The Tribune, in comment on this breezy announcement, said, “They probably will. What is law, what is a human life to the sloppy sentimentality of the juries which sit in these cases?”

Mrs. Simpson’s optimism and our prediction have been essentially justified. She did not try her own case. The unwritten law she relied on was not formally pleaded. But the conventional plea of temporary insanity was, and there were learned experts to support it. The jury did not set her free. It compromised by setting her on the road to freedom. She was solemnly adjudged insane and sent for treatment.

Foreseeing the outcome, the Tribune at the time of the trial said:

“Pity is at work for Mrs. Simpson, but we hear of little for the husband she slew in a public courtroom. She is said to be nervous. Nervous women should not carry firearms. Mrs. Simpson may be demented; if so, she should be placed in an asylum for life; not only until she makes a surprising recovery.”

The recovery is made, but it is not surprising. This tragicomedy, beginning with the slaying of a human being by an infuriated woman, proceeding through the elaborate drama of the American criminal trial, and ending with the solemn farce at Elgin, develops as inevitably as an Ibsen play.

Sentimentality is lawless. The disease in America is endemic. We need some drastic moral therapy.

[“Fifty-One Days For Killing,” Chicago Tribune (Il.), Nov. 24, 1919, p. 8]



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