In March of 1900, Anthony Comstock had Julia Keefe arrested and brought to trial for sending an obscene letter and picture through the U.S. mail to Lillie Parrish. Both women were socially prominent in Rondout and Kingston, N.Y., and the case aroused interest up and down the Hudson River valley.

Julia Keefe’s legal problem sprang from her inclination toward jealousy. In spite of being “young, delicately pretty, bearing every evidence of wealth and culture,” she saw other woman as potential rivals. Her husband was a doctor. She had persuaded him to stop working at the hospital, where he would be around young nurses, but she could not stop his making house calls. And the house of Lillie Parrish was right across the street. When Mrs. Parrish’s husband and daughters were ill, Dr. Keefe was called, often in the middle of the night. The discovery of Mrs. Parrish’s monogrammed handkerchief in one of his pants’ pockets did not help matters. Mrs. Keefe took that souvenir back across the street, along with a series of nasty letters.

Tired of the letters, Mrs. Parrish summoned Anthony Comstock, who “worked up the case.”

In the courtroom, Mrs. Keefe’s lawyer said that Comstock was an “angel of mercy, who may do many good acts but also does many wicked ones, and in the effort to send Mrs. Keefe to prison on flimsy evidence was not showing much charity or mercy to a wronged wife.”

The case finally hung on who one chose to believe. Mrs. Parrish said that Mrs. Keefe mailed the letters. Mrs. Keefe admitted writing the letters, but said she slipped the letters under Mrs. Parrish’s door, and that someone else stamped and mailed them. If the letters were not actually mailed, Mrs. Keefe did not break the law.

The jury, after deliberating for three hours, returned with a verdict of not guilty. Mrs. Keefe left the courtroom with “a merry smile,” and “the be-feathered Rondout and Kingston delegations went home.”


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