Murder and Morality: Late Nineteenth-Century Protestants’ Reaction to the Murder of Helen Jewett
Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Classics, Philosophy, and Religion
Department Chair or Program Director
Dr. Joe Romero
Dr. Mary Beth Mathews
Major or Concentration
In 1836, Richard Robinson murdered Helen Jewett, a former domestic servant from Maine working as a prostitute in New York. Jewett’s death captivated the nation as newspapers and pamphlets detailed accounts of her seduction, fall from society, and life as a sex worker. The sensational stories about Jewett’s early life were of particular interest for audiences wondering how a girl, who lived and worked in a prominent Protestant family household, could willingly choose to become a prostitute. George Wilkes created a novelization of Helen Jewett’s life in 1878, which created a public image of Jewett and Robinson decades after the trial for Jewett’s murder. My research paper will examine the following question: How did the Christian influences in the childhoods of Helen Jewett and Richard Robinson shape the ways in which George Wilkes viewed the joint victimhood and guilt of Jewett and Robinson in the late nineteenth century? I will argue that George Wilkes used the narrative of Genesis to frame his novelization of Helen Jewett’s murder and the trial of Richard Robinson in order to discuss how family units and employers influenced the moral upbringing of youths in America through Christianity.
Corkran, Grace, "Murder and Morality: Late Nineteenth-Century Protestants’ Reaction to the Murder of Helen Jewett" (2021). Student Research Submissions. 400.